Family affair

The Stones have an extended family affair in water polo

Twins Max and Ari Stone rely not only on the support of their siblings as senior high school water polo players, but also on the championship advice of their older brother stemming from his prep days over 20 years old.

Max is fresh off the boys’ season with Bishop’s team reaching the San Diego Section Open Division Finals, while Ari opens the girls’ campaign for traditionally strong La Jolla.

Older brother Adam competed on the 1999 Scripps Ranch team that won the Division I title to begin a family legacy in the sport that also included three cousins.

Max and Ari, 17, play for schools that are Crosstown rivals but reject the notion of sibling rivalry since they started in the sport together around age 8, even together on co-ed teams then for the youngest.

“We strive to improve each other, whether it’s water polo, school or whatever we do,” Max said. “It’s a competition more than a rivalry.”

Ari cheered Max on in the Division Finals on Nov. 13, when he scored for the Knights in an 11-8 loss to Cathedral Catholic.

“We talk a lot about water polo in our family,” Ari said. “It’s a tradition right now. Sometimes we talk about how we play and what we can do to improve.

It all started for Ken and Julia Stone’s family when Adam was spotted at a gymnasium and later invited to play water polo by current La Jolla coach Tom Atwell who was then at Scripps Ranch. From swimming, Adam converted to water polo, a sport that was new to him.

“My first workout, I was totally hooked,” said Adam, now 38. “To kick a ball to a net, be with a team and be competitive in the water. I thought that was the best thing I had ever tried.

As the top reserve in his junior year, Adam contributed to the 1999 title team that included stars such as Josh Muecke, who later pitched in the Houston Astros organization, and goaltender Brandon Schroyer. , Section Player of the Year, who attended the Air Force. Academy.

“The more you work at water polo, the more it rewards you,” said Adam, who currently manages products for a technology company. “Then there is the social aspect. To this day, some of my closest friends are guys I played water polo with.

Adam attended the University of San Francisco, studied abroad in Hungary, and played water polo there. He worked for Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California) before returning to San Diego.

The Vasquez cousins, sons of Julia’s sister Aurora, benefited from Adam’s early lessons. Beto, 32, who now coaches the men’s and women’s teams at San Diego Mesa College, played at Bonita Vista. He was followed by Memo, 30, also at Bonita Vista, and Esteban, 24, at Bishop’s.

In addition, the first swimming lessons were given to Max and Ari, who then turned to water polo.

Only his brother Ben, now 36, did not play water polo. In the same year he went to college, the twins were born.

Initially, Max did not eagerly plunge into the sport.

“When I started water polo, I hated it,” Max said. “My mom took me to my first practice, and it was like, ‘I’m never coming back here.'”

After a few months, Max was invited for another tryout, and in turn, began friendships which included teammate Garrett Johnson, also later his teammate at Bishop’s.

“I found people who supported me and made the game fun for me,” Max said. “It made me fall in love with the game.”

Max first attended La Jolla High and reached college in his sophomore year, when Adam also helped coach under Atwell. Afterwards, Max chose to transfer to Bishop’s in part to follow his cousin Esteban to school and reunite with Johnson for the ever-powerful program.

The Knights won their second consecutive Open Division crown last season, which was postponed until the spring due to the pandemic. From this squad, six of the top seniors graduated, including two-time Section Player of the Year Jack Martin.

Max inherited Martin’s attacking role this season as part of a rebuilt roster. Bishop’s won the playoff seed but lost to City Western League rivals Cathedral.

“We’ve improved so much over the season, and even though we wanted a different end result, it’s been an amazing experience,” said Max, who reflects on his college plans. “We were all so close and we loved each other like brothers.”

Ari also had a reflective moment about water polo, which happened when she was around 10, even trying out other sports like gymnastics.

“I was like, ‘Do I like water polo? Or am I doing it just because I’m into it? said Ari. “So I took a little break. Then I realized that I really liked it.

Ari joined La Jolla University as a sophomore on a team with a core of seniors who mentored younger players. In particular, she remembers bonding with Stephanie Babcock.

“I learned a lot from her,” said Ari, who is also evaluating college options. “The same way I admired Stephanie, now I want to be a leader in this role.”

The No. 4-ranked Vikings lost in the Open Division quarter-finals to Cathedral Catholic last season, also in the spring with the boys.

With pools closed during the pandemic, Ari took up golf with the help of her dad. In turn, she went to Vikings college and became a tri-sport athlete as she also competes on the swim team, primarily in the 500 yard freestyle.

“I’m super excited to have my last season of water polo (prep), said Ari, a central defender. “It’s great to be back to more normal this season with breakfasts and training of the team in the morning. This is very fun.”

Now it’s Max’s turn to cheer on Ari, who is all part of the family’s water polo heritage.

Thien is a freelance writer.