Youth movement: NBA’s 20-something stars set to battle in conference finals

Youth movement: NBA’s 20-something stars set to battle in conference finals
Youth movement: NBA’s 20-something stars set to battle in conference finals

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - WALNUT, California: Chase Dodd started swimming when he was just a kid. Once he began playing water polo, he was hooked.

When Ryder Dodd got a chance to follow his older brother, he was in.

“When I was around 6 years old, my mom was just like, ‘You want to hop in and play?’” Ryder Dodd said. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, of course I do.’”

That’s how it started for the Dodds, the very beginning of their road to USA Water Polo and, quite possibly, the Paris Olympics this summer. For Dylan, Quinn and Ella Woodhead, it’s a similar story.

The US water polo teams for this year’s Olympics could have a much deeper connection than just a mutual love of their grueling sport. Chase and Ryder Dodd are trying to make the men’s roster, alongside Dylan and Quinn Woodhead, while Ella Woodhead is in the mix for the loaded women’s squad.

The women’s team is going to be announced on May 30, and the men’s team will be unveiled on June 18.

“It’s interesting, just seeing the brotherly dynamic,” US men’s captain Ben Hallock said, “how they’re different, how they’re similar, what makes them special. ... So sort of seeing the traits that make them so good, but also a little bit of bickering and competitiveness is also fun to see.”

An invaluable connection

Dylan Woodhead, a 6-foot-7 defender who turned 25 in September, made his Olympics debut when the US finished sixth in Tokyo. Quinn, a 6-4 attacker, turns 24 next month, and Ella, a 5-10 defender, is 20.

“To have my brother here who I grew up playing with basically my whole career, it’s just special,” Dylan Woodhead said. “My sister, too, going through the same process, it’s just people that you’re more comfortable with. ... Playing with Quinn and talking through things with Ella, you can be brutally honest and that’s invaluable in this line of work.”

The Woodhead siblings are from Northern California. Their mother, Laura, was a swimmer at Stanford, and their father, Jeff, was a rower at California. Dylan and Quinn helped the Cardinal win NCAA title in 2019, and Ella will go back to Stanford after redshirting this season to try out for the US team.

The siblings grew up going to the Big Game — the annual college football showdown between Stanford and Cal. Dylan and his dad rooted for the Bears, and Ella and Quinn joined their mom in cheering for the Cardinal.

“(Dylan) was the first one to decide on Stanford, so kind of flipped the tide right there,” Quinn said.

A grinning Dylan offered a careful description of his father’s reaction to his college choice.

“I don’t know if he ever told me, but my mom said, ‘You know, it really hurt him,’” he cracked. “I think he’s OK with it now, there are worse schools to pick than Stanford in his eyes.”

A family falls for water polo

Dylan, Quinn and Ella got an early start on swimming through their mother. They had a pool in their backyard, and they played water basketball games that occasionally resulted in Ella being put in a headlock by one of the brothers to keep her from scoring.

With water polo, the brothers “found a really good community when we first started playing that we really enjoyed,” Quinn said. Ella vividly remembers going to their games as a kid.

“I was like 7 and 8, up in the stands, watching Dylan and Quinn play, taking stats on my own. Homemade stat sheet that I made,” she said. “So I think before I started playing, I kind of just fell in love with the tactical aspects of the game.”

The Woodhead siblings act as a sounding board for each other as they try to get better at water polo. Dylan and Ella talk about playing defender, and Quinn offers tips on shooting.

Dylan and Quinn also are very competitive, especially when they run into each other at US practice. It’s a similar dynamic with Chase and Ryder Dodd, who are from Southern California.

Chase Dodd, a 6-3 attacker who turned 21 last month, scored 39 times for UCLA during the 2022 season before taking this year off to train with the US team. Ryder, an 18-year-old attacker, is considered one of the sport’s rising prospects.

“We have a really competitive relationship. Almost everything we do is a game,” Chase Dodd said. “Everything we do is competition. It’s always go, go, go, go, go. I think that’s perfect for us playing this game.”

Other siblings to watch at the Paris Olympics

The US track team might have its own family ties. Noah Lyles likely will be among the 200-meter favorites, and his younger brother, Josephus, another sprinter, also is looking to make the US team. The American roster also could have Devon Williams for the decathlon and his sister, Kendell, in the heptathlon.

Siblings Karolien and Finn Florijn are looking to row for the Netherlands in Paris, following in the footsteps of their father, Ronald, who won gold at the Seoul and Atlanta Olympics. Tom and Emily Ford, two more rowing siblings, are hoping to medal for Britain.

Brothers Henrik, Filip and Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway are hoping to run in Paris this summer. Ron Polonsky and his sister, Leah, are looking to swim for Israel.

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