Ryder Dodd of JSerra rises from the pool like a great white shark flying out of the ocean. He’s got a yellow ball in his right hand and fires it toward the goal with power and precision. If the goalie is agile enough to deflect it, the impact alone might feel different.
Call it the Dodd Dent, which is similar to the “Elway Cross” when John Elway’s spiral had so much velocity it was breaking the fingers of his receivers during his quarterbacking days.
“There’s no question in my mind he’s the best high school player in the country,” JSerra water polo coach Brett Ormsby said.
Dodd, 6 feet and 205 pounds, doesn’t turn 18 until January and yet he played for the senior national team this summer, scoring six goals at the World Aquatics Championships in Japan. He’s in contention to make the U.S. team for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. His brother, Chase, a UCLA player, is taking this year off to train for the national team and was in the pool with Ryder this week at JSerra. Yes, there could be two Dodds in Paris representing USA.
For the next two months, high school sports fans will get to enjoy watching a teenager who ranks among the best young water polo prospects Southern California has produced. One day he could have his name mentioned with the likes of Tony Acevedo (Long Beach Wilson), the late Jim Toring (Harvard-Westlake) and Ben Hallock (Harvard-Westlake), all of whom went from high school to college to the Olympic team.
There’s no doubt playing against, and with, some of the best players in the world this summer has made Dodd a better player entering his senior year.
“It was an amazing, incredible experience,” he said. “I got to learn so many new things. Being around them, how they live their life in other countries and the different styles they brought back playing in different countries. There’s bigger guys using their body weight to push people around. Intelligence is also a big thing. They use it to a great advantage, using moves I haven’t seen before.”
Dodd comes from a family that loves being in water. His father, mother, uncle, grandfather and grandmother were all swimmers. Dodd was a talented butterfly and freestyle swimmer until water polo became his favorite sport in middle school. His father, Steve, participates in sailing competitions.
“His motor is crazy,” Harvard-Westlake coach Jack Grover said. “He swims super well but doesn’t get tired. There hasn’t been a shooter like him in my time. It’s not just placement but the variety of shots and the way he can move his arm.”
Ormsby, a former Olympian who has transformed the JSerra program into a powerhouse, said, “The sky’s the limit for him. The guy trains harder than everybody. He loves to be pushed, he loves to compete. He trains like he’s going to be cut from the frosh-soph team. Second, he’s really mature and smart. The last thing is he’s so aquatic. He grew up in the pool and around the ocean. He’s really comfortable and natural in water.”
Dodd is used at all positions by Ormsby, depending on where he’s needed. Dodd gets as much joy making a pass leading to a goal as scoring himself. No matter what expectations people have for him, he’s focused on helping his team win.
“Everyone knows the talent, but he’s a really awesome kid, too,” Ormsby said.
“I think of myself as just another player in the pool,” Dodd said. “Even if my role is bigger than others, I’m willing to play to the best of my ability.”
The Lions have other top players, including college committed seniors Will Schneider (Stanford), Bode Brinkema (USC), Maddox Arlett (California) and Tas Palcza (Princeton).
Dodd is committed to USC, which means there figures to be some interesting family dynamics when he plays against UCLA and brother Chase next year.
“I haven’t really wrapped my head around that part yet,” he said. “The rivalry is already pretty strong in the family under our roof. Game days are going to be electric playing against my brother.”
Dodd will miss close to three weeks of action while participating in Team USA competitions this fall but he’ll be available for the playoffs. JSerra won the Division 1 regional title last season after falling to Newport Harbor in the Southern Section Open Division final.
Newport Harbor, with 14 water polo championships, will be a top challenger to JSerra, along with a young, improving Harvard-Westlake team.