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Murray Journal

Murray HS water polo player earns spot on Olympic development team

Feb 26, 2019 02:50PM ● By Carl Fauver

Murray High School junior Riley Thompson will compete in a national water polo tournament in California later this month, after earning a spot on a prestigious Olympic development team. (Photo courtesy Riley Thompson)

By Carl Fauver |  carlf@mycityjournals.com

Murray High School junior Riley Thompson has been selected – from among dozens who tried out – for a prestigious water polo team, earning a trip to southern California later this month to compete in a national tournament. 

“I’m not the best water polo player,” Thompson said, humbly. “I mostly just tried out for the experience. I was surprised and excited when I made the team.”

Thompson earned her way on to the Rocky Mountain Zone Olympic Development Program (ODP) team, through a pair of tryout sessions at the Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center.

“The first tryout was held the weekend before Thanksgiving,” Thompson continued. “There were a couple of hundred water polo players trying out for various teams. That first tryout reduced my large group to just 21 girls, invited back for the final tryouts, after the holidays.”

Both members of the Murray High School girls’ water polo club team who attended the initial tryout – Thompson and teammate Isabelle Wright – survived that initial tryout. But during the January 5 and 6 final tryouts, Wright was one of the seven who were cut, while Thompson made the final squad of 14.

“After each tryout, I had to wait a full week for the email telling me I had made it,” Thompson added. “The second wait was especially tough, because at that point I was so close to making the team. There were girls at the tryouts from New Mexico and Arizona. It was pretty competitive.”    

The Rocky Mountain ODP team was scheduled to practice for only two days together (Feb. 16 and 17), prior to their national championship tournament in Riverside, California. 

“This really isn’t so much about qualifying for the Olympic water polo team – at least not for me,” Thompson said. “I am excited because playing in this tournament gives you exposure to college coaches. I want to play water polo in college. So, I am excited to have them see me play.”

Riley has clips of her water polo highlights appearing on college recruitment websites and has already received initial contacts from schools in California and Pennsylvania.

“When she first told me she was trying out for the (ODP) team I was ecstatic and told her it was awesome,” said Riley’s father, Todd Thompson, who is also the Murray High School head football coach. “Riley is really focused on trying to play water polo in college, so I am very excited for her.”

Thompson added, Riley is his only daughter who “gravitated toward sports,” and has been playing water polo since age 12. Despite being an accomplished high school football and wrestling coach, Todd Thompson has not assisted his daughter in this sport, beyond driving her to practices occasionally.

“I am still trying to figure out the (water polo) rules half the time,” he quipped.

Riley said she and her parents will likely drive together to the Riverside tournament. She will then stay with her team at a hotel, while her parents secure their own lodging.

“The tryouts were really just for this one particular tournament,” Riley added.  

Her appearance at the ODP tournament marks the second straight year a Murray girl’s water polo player has qualified for the national championships. Thompson said her former teammate, Oaklee Greenland, made the Rocky Mountain Zone team a year ago.

Riley spends a lot of time in swimming pools, participating on the Murray High School girl’s swim team as well as the water polo club team.

“I competed in the 200- and 500-meter freestyle races,” she said. “I’m not great. But I know swimming for the team helps keep me in shape for water polo. I will definitely do it again next year.”

Thompson said she is excited and anxious for the Riverside tournament in two weeks, for her regular Murray Spartan girl’s water polo season this spring, and to start making college campus visits, as she begins to turn her focus to the next level of competition.