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Corona del Mar center Tamir Avital made the U.S. junior national team this year.

CdM's Avital likes where he's at now

STAFF WRITER

Tamir Avital was about 10 years old when his family moved to Newport Beach from Salt Lake City, Utah, because of his father’s new job.

At the time, Avital wasn’t thrilled to relocate.

“I didn’t want to go,” he recalled. “I was 10 years old. I didn’t want to leave my friends.”

But Avital discovered the aquatics community in Orange County and a sport that changed the course of his life.

Avital started to play water polo and developed into a standout center for Corona del Mar, which is playing this weekend in the S & R Sport Water Polo Tournament in Irvine.

His skill and 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame have caught the attention of the sport’s national federation.

“He’s just got a lot of potential,” said Corona del Mar assistant coach Ryan Bailey, a four-time U.S. Olympian and 2008 silver medalist from UC Irvine.

Avital’s rise has been steady as a four-year member of Corona del Mar’s boys program, known for producing strong centers such as two-time Olympian John Mann.

In the past year, his progress gained several knots.

As he improved his fitness and strength, Avital added valuable experience as a member of the U.S. youth national team.

In the spring, he was invited to a selection camp for the Olympic Development Program for the first time. He later earned a spot on the youth team and the U.S. roster for the Junior Pan American Games that competed during the summer in Canada.

“The national team training really helped me,” said Avital, who missed the Junior Pan American Games with an injury. “We do a lot of fundamentals and skill work at practice with CdM, so that really helped me improve over the past year (as well).”

Avital joined a group of youth team centers that included Harvard-Westlake of Studio City’s Felix Brozyna-Vilim (UCLA commit), Huntington Beach’s Quinten Osborne (UCLA) and Cathedral Catholic of San Diego’s Spencer Nelson (Stanford).

The U.S. youth squad scrimmaged against college teams.

“I improved my aggressiveness,” Avital said. “I’ve gotten better at positioning. I used to be a lot worse on defense, and I think I’ve improved a little bit but I’m not quite there yet.”

Corona del Mar coach Barry O’Dea believes Avital’s progress could place him in elite company.

“From last year to this year, (his play) is night and day (improved),” O’Dea said. “He’s kind of stepped into that leading role as the No. 1 2-meter man at CdM. He’s got some big shoes to fill … and he’s doing a pretty good job of it. He has the opportunity to be maybe one of the best we’ve had in the last 10 years.”

Despite extra attention from defenses, Avital leads Corona del Mar with 26 goals, including a season-high five in an 11-5 victory against Beckman on Tuesday.

At the South Coast Tournament, he scored twice in a 9-8 triumph against No. 1 Mater Dei in the quarterfinals, helping the Sea Kings become the first county team in almost six years to beat the Monarchs.

“It was a really good win for us,” Avital said. “Our whole team was playing well. … That game is kind of the first stepping stone of us getting to the next level.”

For Avital’s family, the next level has been basketball. His 6-foot-9 father, Asher Avital, played professional basketball in Israel for six years and for the Israeli youth national team.

Asher played for Hapoel Tel Aviv, which he considers the second-strongest Israeli team behind Maccabi Tel Aviv, the squad once guided by ex-Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt.

Avital played some basketball before starting water polo. A neighbor in Orange County steered him toward his new sport.

“Someone in our neighbor said that water polo is big here and I should try it,” he said.

Water polo now is a big part of the family’s sports landscape. Avital’s 6-foot-1 sister, Maya, a freshman, plays goalie at Corona del Mar and has played for the U.S. national development team.

His youngest sister, Ella, plays volleyball.

“I love the sport,” Asher said of water polo. “It’s a very under-served sport.”

Avital is interested in playing water polo in college. His sights are on schools such as Cal, two-time defending NCAA champion UCLA, USC and UC Irvine.

Corona del Mar’s season, especially the Division 1 playoffs, has his immediate attention.

“We have the potential to do very well,” he said. “It’s starting with all the conditioning and hard work we’re putting in every day.”

For Avital, his new home has allowed possibilities to surface that he couldn’t find in Utah.

“Now, obviously,” he said, “I’m super glad I came.”

Recent CdM Centers

Name, Sr. Season, College

Brendan Hack, 2015, USC

Matt Sherburne, 2013, Cal

Ben Zepfel, 2011, Harvard

Chase Watson, 2010, USC

Lucas Reynolds, 2008, UCLA

Jacob Murphy, 2005, UCLA

John Mann, 2002, Cal

Contact the writer: dalbano@scng.com


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