Future Gaucho Kendall Thomas trained with Team USA

Kendall Thomas hasn’t played a high school water polo game, but she’s already made a name for herself on the national level.

The soon-to-be El Capitan High player isn’t your normal incoming freshman.

Thomas, 14, scheduled her summer activities around training with the Team USA 2017 Women’s Cadet National Team in Southern California and an elite club team out of Clovis called 559 Royal Academy.

“In terms of an incoming freshman, she definitely has way more experience than the majority of players in the area,” said former El Capitan coach Kristie Dunham, who has coached Thomas through her club program up until this year. “She comes in playing with the best players in the country. Kendall will be a major offensive and defensive threat immediately at the high school level.”

Dunham stepped down as the El Capitan High girls water polo coach after leading the Gauchos to back-to-back Sac-Joaquin Section championship game appearances and a Division II section championship banner last season.

“Kristie helped bring me into the water polo world,” Thomas said. “She’s given me a lot of knowledge. She’s allowed me to play an age group or two above my level. She’s a great coach. She’s motivated me throughout. She’s the one that suggested I play for the club team I played on this summer.”

Former Golden Valley boys coach Andy Seto takes over the Gauchos girls program.

The Gauchos graduated most of the key players from last year’s section title team, but Seto will get a nice building block in Thomas.

Thomas was invited to tryout for the cadet national team after her performance with her Central Zone team in the Olympic Development Program. Thomas was one of 40 players to receive an invitation to tryout.

The cadet national team tryout took place over Memorial Day Weekend and Thomas was one of the 20 girls selected for the team.

“It was grueling,” Thomas said. “It was extremely challenging, but it was really fun getting to know everyone. It’s so crazy how you get to know so many people across the nation through water polo.”

The cadet national team held a 4-day training camp earlier this summer in Southern California. During the camp, the athletes spent eight hours a day in the pool. For Thomas, it was even more of a challenge because the coaching staff asked her to switch to a new position. She moved in from wing to play hole-set.

“I can tell you I was very sunburn even though I had inches of sunscreen everywhere,” Thomas said. “The sun still found me. I gained a lot of knowledge from the coaches and the workouts. It allowed me to play against people who are better than me. It helped build up my skill level.”

According to Dunham, there have been players in the area invited to training camps put on by Team USA, but nobody area players have been selected to the national team since Margie Dingeldein played for Team USA in the 2004 Olympics.

“Kathryn Elgin (former Merced player now at San Jose State) made the training camp that Kendall attended to make the Cadet team,” Dunham said. “Only two other players from Central Zone, which covers Bakersfield to Sacramento, made any National Team. It is a major accomplishment.”

Thomas spent last week in Southern California playing in the Junior Olympics where her 559 Royal Academy team finished in the top 20 in the country.

Now she’s ready to turn her attention to high school.

“I’ve been waiting for this year to finally get my chance to play on a high school team,” Thomas said. “I’m really excited to start playing.”

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