When Cameron Storlie decided he wasn’t going to play football in his sophomore year, his friends—Jacob Hatch and Nicholas Jensen—recommended to give water polo a shot. Even though Storlie had never played the sport before and wasn’t crazy on the idea of swimming a lot of laps to condition himself for the rigors of the sport, he was open to the idea. In the summer before his sophomore year, Storlie watched Hatch and Jensen play on Manta—the area’s club water polo program—before deciding to join the team himself. It’s turned out to be a great decision, as the Bulldogs are having another strong season and in line to clinch a Central Coast Section playoff berth.
The three have been stalwarts in the Sobrato program and are enjoying every last second they have together before they part ways and go off to college next year.
“The highlight for me is us being together one last time playing in tournaments together on the weekend,” Hatch said. “I’m looking forward to getting out of high school, but it’ll suck saying goodbye to them.”
Hatch, who is the team’s leading goal scorer and the 2018 Blossom Valley League Mount Hamilton Division Co-Junior of the Year, has been a tour de force offensively. Jensen has been a stalwart defensively and Storlie has been solid at goalie. Hatch said he’s being recruited by the University of California at San Diego and San Jose State men’s water polo programs, and wouldn’t mind playing for either program. In conversations with the UCSD and SJSU coaches, Hatch has been told they like his quickness, ability to get up and down the pool and be strong on the outside.
Hatch has made it a point this season to get his teammates involved even if he’s having an off day. He said his assist totals are up from previous years, a byproduct of being intentional in looking for his teammates, especially if he’s getting double-teamed. Jensen, who earned the BVAL’s Mount Hamilton Division Junior of the Year award last season, entered this season wanting to have no regrets. So far, so good, as the team has played at a high level for most of the season.
“I knew coming into senior year I wanted to make it one to remember because it might be my last year of playing water polo,” he said. “I made it a point to work hard everyday in practice and learn from my mistakes.”
The Bulldogs won the Live Oak tournament and finished as the runner-up in the Milpitas and Homestead tournaments. They also beat Pioneer for the first time in four years and made the score against Leland—the three-time defending CCS Division I champions—closer than in years past. Jensen knows his strengths lie on the defensive side, where he guards the opposing hole-set. He credits Sobrato coach Ronni Gautschi for helping him develop not just in the sport, but outside the pool as well.
“I owe pretty much everything I am as a water polo player to her,” Jensen said. “Not just as a player, but the person I am.”
Jensen has a weighted 4.0-plus GPA and has been friends with Storlie since kindergarten. Their friendship has remained intact over a period of 13 years, and even when they go their separate ways for college, it won’t be that hard to stay in contact, not with video chats, texts and video game linkups as a means of communication—just to name a few.
“Obviously a lot of people have come and gone over the years, but Cameron has been one of the guys who has stuck around,” Jensen said.
Storlie and Jensen have known Hatch since they were in the eighth grade, and the trio bonded immediately.
“I feel like we’re the Three Musketeers because we’re always together,” Jensen said. “We have a strong bond and work well together, and that helps us as captains.”
Hatch and Jensen played together on Manta’s 16-and-under team in last summer’s Junior Olympics, helping the team to its best-ever finish. It was a performance that left the coaches and players proud, knowing they had achieved their potential. Jensen had never played water polo until his freshman year, but he probably learned the game quicker than most, picking up the nuances of the game.
Jensen spent a good chunk of his childhood playing soccer, which prepared him for the transition he had to make to water polo.
“When most people start playing water polo for the first time, they’re never any good,” he said. “It’s a learning curve and process, and that is what makes water polo a special sport. You really have to put time in the pool to see growth.”
Jensen’s dad, Jorn, happens to be one of the top men’s runners in the Bay Area. He consistently places in the top 10 in the men’s 50-55 age category- in road and cross country races, a testament to his relentless dedication to the sport.
“I definitely tried to get into running, but it’s not my thing,” Nicholas said. “My dad is obviously super hard to keep up with—he’s a machine. It’s impressive what he does. Some people need their cup of coffee in the morning; my dad needs his run in the morning. He’s out there doing it everyday.”
Perhaps no one on the team has made a bigger improvement in the last four years than Storlie, who as the goalie needs to speak up and keep the defensive communication going.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot since last year,” Storlie said. “I’m more consistent, dependable and a lot more vocal to my teammates in what they need to do. I feel like I’ve become more of a leader and physically improved as well in getting more blocks.”
Storlie knows he has to always be on alert, as shots can come from any angle and distance on a moment’s notice. He also looks to create situations in which he has a higher percentage to block a shot, which means telling his teammates to be in a certain position defensively to help cut off the angle of a shot. Storlie said his best performance of the season came in a match against tournament host Homestead.
“At the beginning we weren’t playing well as a team and they got off to a six-goal lead,” he said. “Then we played shutdown defense and really got in the zone. I made six or seven saves in one quarter, and we ended up winning by one goal. It was a great team effort.”
When Storlie started playing with Manta in the summer before his sophomore year, he didn’t start out as a goalie. When the high school season started, he was still a field player. It wasn’t until the summer before his junior year in which Storlie made the transition to goalie after the uncertainty of the goalie position at Sobrato for the 2018 season. Storlie ended up winning the goalie competition and hasn’t looked back since.
“It was weird being able to use two hands at once,” Storlie said, referring to the fact that field players can only have one hand on the ball at all times. “It was a great challenge. A goalie is sort of like the quarterback of the defense in that you have to inform everyone and be pretty vocal. It was a pretty tough transition since I was playing in the field, but I just got in and worked hard everyday.”
Gautschi had great things to say about all three players, paying Hatch the ultimate compliment.
“I hope he stays somewhere (close for college) so I can watch him because he will grow as a player exponentially in the next two years,” Gautschi said. “He’s the reason I started coaching at Sobrato, and why we will probably be finishing together. He’s ready to take the next step for sure, and he has a huge future in it.”
Gautschi noted Storlie’s vast improvement in a short amount of time, chalking that up to “doing whatever it takes to get to the level he needs to be at.” During the club season, Storlie plays in the field. For Sobrato, he’s the last line of defense.
“Seeing him grow as a player has been amazing because in two years he became a true varsity starter,” Gautschi said. “He earned the starting goalie spot (as a junior) by working really hard in the summer.”
Gautschi said she’s developed a good rapport with Jensen, which she never thought would happen since they had “a little struggle at the beginning of our relationship.” However, as time went on, both got to understand and appreciate each other.
“Now he’s become one of my boys who I can talk to,” she said. “Personality-wise, he’s an amazing kid and stupid smart. He’ll accomplish anything he puts his mind to. He’s just smart, not just in water polo but in having everyday conversations with him. He knows things that most kids his age don’t recognize, and that is partly what makes him such a great player defensively. He anticipates well and his shot-blocking and hole-defending is unreal. We didn’t have him for half of the game last weekend and it was hard for us without him. It was a huge hole. Everything about the kid is amazing.”