People of Lafayette: freshman excels on varsity water polo team


photo courtesy of Jamie Wackerle

Holding the ball above his head, freshman Owen Waeckerle scans the pool for a pass. Last summer, Owen participated in the Junior Olympics, held in Dallas, where teams across the country compete for a gold medal.

After his dad convinced him to start playing, freshman Owen Waeckerle began playing water polo at five years old. He was convinced because Owen’s father, James Waeckerle, is the head coach of Lafayette’s boys water polo team and had been coaching water polo for 20 years. Owen found out that he could use water polo to not just have fun, but to make new friends along the way.

“I love playing water polo because I love sports and love being in the pool with friends,” Owen said.

While water polo for him has always been more about team bonding and the excitement of competition than winning, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like to win.

In fact, in 2022, Owen and his dad were invited to Dallas on July 15-18, to play in the Junior Olympics with only a few other teams from Missouri. Owen’s team placed second, out of all the competitors in the 14 and under division, with James coaching.

“Our team as a whole at Junior Olympics was sensational. In the St. Louis area, this is probably one of the strongest freshman classes in our club’s history. In fact, this was the first trophy our club had ever brought home. Junior Olympics is one of the highest levels of competition available to our club, and we faced a lot of good players,” Owen said

Although he was playing players from around the country, Owen was able to hold his own.

“I would say I matched up pretty well with the competition especially since I was not a top scorer on the team. In this tournament, I was primarily focused on the defensive end and would sometimes defend the opposing team’s better shooters. I did contribute on the offensive end, but I mostly was a passer and quarterbacked the plays we ran. Overall, it was more of a team effort and our team matched up well with the competition which allowed us to bring home the silver,” Owen said.

After the Junior Olympics, his freshman year started and Owen started playing for Lafayette’s varsity water polo team. However, playing under his dad has made playing for Lafayette harder than normal.

“It is harder than just being a player on the team because as my dad and my coach if he let me get away with anything, then it would not look good for him. He had me play JV for the first tournament of the year to prove to everyone that I wasn’t receiving special treatment and actually deserved to be on varsity,” Owen said.

As of May 3, 2023 Owen has scored 40 goals and assisted 59 times, being ranked second in the St. Louis area in assists. Despite his high tallies in goals and assists, Owen faces adversity playing as a freshman.

“At times [playing as a freshman is] very difficult because I am much smaller than my competition. For example, I tend to play much better in all deep pools because the bigger player no longer has access to the bottom of the pool where they can move me much easier while they have their feet planted on the ground,” Owen said.

Despite dealing with the size differences in varsity, Owen has become a dependable figure on the team.

“Because I have been around the team before I became a high schooler, I have been accepted and trusted by my teammates even though I am a freshman,” Owen said.

The Lancers are starting their playoffs May 6, playing Ladue at 8 a.m at Lafayette. Owen has been anticipating this game.

“I have waited a long time throughout my water polo career for a chance to play in the playoffs. I am definitely looking forward to our game against Ladue because we have not played them this year. Knowing what we have and what they have I am expecting a very close and exciting game that could go either way.”

Although he expects a close game, Owen believes that the Lancers can come out on top.

“As long as our team can execute our game plan and practice some timeout plays, I think we could win this game. Right now I am focused on this game and would be happy just to win this one playoff game, knowing it would be better than our results last year,” Owen said.

Owen’s main advice for people is to give water polo a chance.

“Give water polo a try, because you will never know where it takes you,” Owen said.