By Brian Stanley

Contributing Writer

While most kids his age were spending their summer unwinding from the school year, 12-year-old Hale Durbiano was focused on water polo and the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics.

Raised in Santa Ynez, Hale began playing water polo with Santa Barbara Premier Water Polo Club three years ago during the club’s practices at Santa Ynez High School.

Now he is a Junior Olympian.

hale durbiano

Santa Barbara Premier Water Polo Club Junior Olympics team (Back Head Coach Adam Lott, Asher Smith Front: Noah Peterson, Jaden Moore, Wyatt Vanhooren, Mateo Obando, Nolan Ung, Sean O’Neill, Nikita Kolosov, Aiden Nueron, Hale Durbiano)

As the coaching staff at Santa Barbara Premier began building the roster, the coaches decided to select Hale as the goal keeper for the club’s 12-and-under team at the national Junior Olympics tournament held in San Jose in July.

Kym Bishop, Santa Barbara Premier’s team mom, reached out to Kelly Durbiano, Hale’s mother, to reveal the invitation to Hale, the only club member from Santa Ynez selected to the 12-U squad.

“She called after a tournament that the boys had played in Oxnard as we were driving home, and she said that they had wanted to invite Hale to play on the team for Junior Olympics,” Kelly Durbiano said.

“When my wife and I got the phone call, it was really surprising because he doesn’t play much with the Santa Barbara team,” Hale’s father, Danny Durbiano, said about getting the news of the selection. “To get a call to be asked to play at that level, I was just filled with pride. It was awesome.”

Coach Travis Allain, the club’s youth coordinator and 14-and-under head coach, said that Hale was selected to the team because of his participation in the program along with his commitment and reliability in showing up to practices.

After Danny and Kelly talked over the details of Hale’s participation at the Junior Olympics and the time commitment needed, they told Hale he made the team.

“It was kind of shocking because I didn’t think I was at that level yet to be on (a Junior Olympic) team and go to such a big tournament,” Hale said.


Getting to San Jose

Before Hale and his teammates’ parents could book the hotel rooms in San Jose for the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics, the team had to travel to the Los Angeles area for a qualifying tournament to make the big show.

There was only one obstacle in Hale’s way. His older brother, Tristan Durbiano, was graduating from Santa Ynez High School the same weekend as the qualifying tournament.

“So Hale didn’t even go to the qualifying tournament,” Kelly said. “We had family in town all weekend and the tournament was way down in Orange County.”

While Hale was attending Tristan’s graduation, his teammates qualified for the Junior Olympics.

“When the team qualified they said he was still invited to play on the team, that they wanted him to be a part of the team going to the Junior Olympics,” Kelly said.


The Tournament

After playing in tournaments across Southern California, Hale was ready to take the next step to competing at the national level with teams from across the country.

Playing in the boys’ classic division, Santa Barbara Premier captured wins in their first two games, defeating Navy, 18-10, and Alliance Aquatics Club, 11-7.

Hale Durbiano

Hale Durbiano was the only club member from Santa Ynez selected to the 12U Junior Olympic squad for Santa Barbara Premier Water Polo Club.

“It was cool. The first day we played a team from the East Coast, from Maryland,” Hale said. “It’s funny watching West Coast water polo, where we practice all the time because we have outdoor pools and it doesn’t snow or rain, compared to their kind of water polo. They play it a whole lot different than we do.”

After sweeping their games on the first day, Santa Barbara Premier advanced into the silver bracket for day two to challenge two teams closer to home, South Coast Aquatics from the Los Angeles area and Gold Coast Water Polo Club from Ventura County.

“In the Junior Olympics there is no easy game after day one,” Allain said.

The scores from the second day of competition reflected how the difficulty increased as the tournament progressed. The club collected wins over South Coast and Gold Coast but won by just one goal in both games.

“Some teams we’ve played before but there were some big caliber teams from the Los Angeles area. They were decently matched, but we came back in the end and beat them,” Hale said.

Riding a four-game winning streak, Santa Barbara Premier lost to Costa Mesa Aquatics Club 10-6 in the team’s first game on day three. In the second game of the day the club played San Jose Express Water Polo Club to a 10-10 tie in regulation, forcing a shootout between both clubs.

“At the tournament, when you’re a goalie and you get into a shootout situation you basically have the whole team on your back. It’s only you who can do anything and your shooters,” Hale said.

With Hale in the cage for Santa Barbara Premier, San Jose Express won the shootout 4-2 to advance to the semifinals.

“The position he plays at goalie is very hard to watch. He carries the weight of the game on his shoulders. I’m very proud of how he carried himself in those situations,” Danny said. “You’re either the hero or the goat.”

On the final day of competition, Santa Barbara Premier played Menlo Park to an 8-8 finish, taking the club final game into another shootout. Menlo Park captured the victory in the shootout 4-2.

“To be as close as the teams were in scoring and performance at the end shows testament to Hale’s play in the goal and the team’s play as a whole,” Allain said.

Santa Barbara Premier finished in sixth place in the 12-and-under Classic Division, placing 54TH overall.


The Sport of Brothers

Water Polo is turning into a family sport for Hale and his brothers, Tristan and Oliver.

“His freshman year he played on the (junior varsity) team,” Hale said about Tristan’s involvement with Santa Ynez High School boys’ water polo. “His sophomore year he got brought up to the varsity team and I was like ‘Wow, that would be awesome if I could do that and follow in his footsteps.’”

Tristan played four years of water polo at Santa Ynez High School as the Pirates’ goal keeper. Winning two Los Padres League titles with the Pirates, Tristan was named Los Padres League co-MVP.

“Just watching his team going on and on, being a small-town team and going to big tournaments and winning and beating big schools, it was cool,” Hale said.

Kelly feels that that Tristan playing water polo had a big impact on Hale choosing to play water polo and not playing baseball or soccer anymore.

“I think he absorbed all the water polo stuff from watching Tristan play for so many years,” Kelly said. “He soaked it all in and really learned the sport itself rather than just how to be a player.”

The desire to play water polo that was passed on to Hale has picked up momentum once again with Hale’s younger brother Oliver joining Santa Barbara Premier in August.

Moving up to the boys 14-and-under age group, Hale is working toward making Santa Barbara Premier’s travel roster along with two dozen other club members.

“The evaluations for the Junior Olympics roster isn’t until the spring. Everyone is working towards making the fall travel roster right now, which hasn’t been set yet,” Allain said.