On the right side of the podium, Ryder Dodd is facing the flag. His team stands beside him, all in matching dark robes. The Star Spangled Banner plays as they mentally prepare for the first game. The 17-year-old high school water polo player is the only high school student-athlete to compete on the United States Men’s National Water Polo Team. He competes for his country and soon, the University of Southern California as well.
“It means a lot just to have the opportunity to be on this team,” Ryder said.
Ryder is going into his senior year at JSerra High School in San Juan Capistrano, California and has committed to USC. Last year, as a junior, he was already competing with professionals.
Ryder started his aquatics journey on a swim team with his older brother, Chase Dodd, a sophomore at UCLA. After observing how their friends enjoyed playing water polo, they decided to give it a try. The brothers chose to fully commit to playing water polo, the sport they grew to love. Although Chase is two years older than Ryder, their bond became stronger through their interest in playing a sport. “We both understand each other really well,” Chase said. They carry an almost synchronized mindset and because of this, they know each other’s next moves in the pool.
Even while on the same team, the brothers have a sibling rivalry. The tough love they have for each other helps push them to be better athletes. While playing at the championship, the brothers are constantly building off each other and know competitively where they both stand.
While competing for the World Cup, Ryder got a preview of his future campus. Playing with and against professionals has had a great effect on him. “It means a lot playing with all these guys that have so much experience,” Ryder said.
The USC Uytengsu Aquatics Center hosted the event, which invites national teams to compete against each other for gold, silver, and bronze medals. Shots were flying at 50 miles per hour out of the water. Players were on the sidelines scoping out their competition and rushing in and out of the locker room. The young ball boys and girls were giddy with excitement to participate in the event. This year, the event garnered a crowd of water polo fans ranging from all over to root for their teams.
The USA head coach, Dejan Udovičić, said their team came to win. On the first day of the tournament, the national team won a match against Serbia. The game was close but the United States managed to secure the win. On the second day of the tournament, the men’s team lost another close game, this time against Italy. The last day ended with the team competing in the finals against Hungary for a bronze medal. The concluding game was finalized with a devastating loss for the United States in a shootout. The crowd was already packing up to leave, thinking the score was finished but a USA player contested the last four minutes of the game due to a penalty call. The referees added the remaining minutes of the game back onto the scoreboard. Ryder proved he was meant to be there with his defensive attack. This was more than enough time for the United States to bounce back and secure the bronze medal.
Coming out of the weekend, Ben Hallock is the name on everybody’s mind. Hallock was influential in the USA’s victories. Located at the center of the play, Hallock was often a leader for the rest of the team. In and out of the pool, Ryder credits Hallockas a mentor. “Ever since I’ve been on the team, he’s been the most comforting guy,” Ryder said.
USC will experience significant growth in the future, as a national team player joins them. However, Ryder is still entering his senior year of high school at JSerra. While he is an experienced water polo player, he will continue to train and compete with the national team before he makes his debut at USC. Another challenge he will face is competing against his brother, who plays for UCLA. The games in 2024 will carry a different intensity based on their closeness, “It will be very interesting to see who brings something new to the table or who is able to perfect what we have been lacking in the past,” Chase said.