Twelve players from the Bangarang Water Polo Club recently returned from a 10-day travel training trip to Budapest, Hungary, where they put in more than 16 hours of training against teams in the mecca of their sport.
“Hungary is a water polo world power, and water polo is the biggest and most popular sport in Budapest,” Bangarang coach Joey Gullikson said. “Most kids begin playing at the age of 5, and by the age of 10 they can recite the number of world, European and Olympic championships Hungary has won and the location of each.”
The Bangarang players were Justin-Siena students Xaya Arcia, Connor Wesson, Dylan Youngborg, Diego Sanchez, Sam Sheekey, Jacob Bowman, Sam Thatcher and Cullen Mooers, and Vintage students Trever LaRue, Dustin Messner, Quentin Cardone and Rio Barnes.
The trip was made through a host organization, the International Water Polo Agency. Each day consisted of training, an recreational activity, and competition in the evening. The activities included disco bowling, watching professional games, go-karting, a quad-bike ride on Margaret Island, and a visit to a T.E.A.M. (Team Race Against Puzzles) room.
The players were also able to experience a culture full of history, visit beautiful castles, cathedrals and churches, eat Hungarian foods such as goulash and somloi galuska, and meet other athletes who share their passion for water polo.
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Sanchez said his favorite part of the trip was the go-karting.
“Balazs (Szabo), our tour guide, took us to the Formula 1 racetrack, Hungaroring,” he said.
“We had the go-kart track to ourselves, and split up into two groups. Each group had two races each, after which the top four from each group raced each other in a championship race. Even though Trever LaRue and Balazs dominated the races, I got the second-best lap time. I wish we could go back again.”
Jeaneil LaRue joined her son, Trever, on the trip and said the efforts of Gullikson and Szabo made the trip unforgettable.
“Having never traveled to any part of Europe before, I was a little nervous about going on this trip and taking my son and trusting that everything was all planned out for us. But it was the best decision I have ever made to go on this very special trip with such an amazing group of people,” she said.
“Every day was planned out and ran like clockwork. This was a great group of athletes who truly love water polo and want to learn everything they can to get better. Kids from Justin and Vintage meshed into a great family. I truly believe that this trip improved every athlete’s level of play and love for the game. A once-in-a-lifetime experience to play against athletes from another country and learn their culture. You better believe we will be going wherever coach Joey has planned for next year.”
Sheekey said water polo is as popular in Hungary as baseball is in the United States.
“Every little kid whether they liked it or not, played water polo at some point,” he said.
“Those who liked it enough or were good enough to keep playing moved onto club teams and eventually pro teams. When we played the 16-and-under club teams, you could tell that they all had great team chemistry because they had been playing for 10-plus years. They’re playing at a totally different level than what we are accustomed to in the U.S.”
Messner said the Bangarang players came back more confident and skillful after training every morning and competing at night against some of the best age-group teams and players in the world.
“Traveling to Hungary was an incredible experience,” he said. “Our team was not only able to significantly improve our abilities and skills in water polo and expose ourselves to top-level play, but was also able to experience a new culture and participate in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Bangarang plans to return to Budapest in the summer of 2015 with an eighth-grade-and-under team. The club is also planning a trip to Sydney for its advanced high school group of girls and boys.
Anyone athletes ages 6-18 who are interested in playing for the Bangarang Water Polo Club this spring or summer can contact Gullikson at