2012-07-12 / Sports

Queen of water world

Newbury Park’s Van Brande is an aquatics superstar
By Eliav Appelbaum


PANTHER SOAKS UP THE SUN—Newbury Park High’s Helena Van Brande, who will be a junior in the fall, shines in the Junior Lifeguard program at Port Hueneme. She excels in the run-swim-run and long paddle race events. The Panther is expected to compete at the California Surf Lifesaving Association Junior Lifeguard regional competition at Newport Pier on Fri., July 27. 
IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers PANTHER SOAKS UP THE SUN—Newbury Park High’s Helena Van Brande, who will be a junior in the fall, shines in the Junior Lifeguard program at Port Hueneme. She excels in the run-swim-run and long paddle race events. The Panther is expected to compete at the California Surf Lifesaving Association Junior Lifeguard regional competition at Newport Pier on Fri., July 27. IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers Helena Van Brande rules the pool—and the ocean.

An incoming junior at Newbury Park High, Van Brande excels at water polo, swimming and being a junior lifeguard. She’s also an avid surfer.

Did anyone mention she can play the ukulele?

Van Brande has enjoyed an eventful, and at times chaotic, summer in the sun.

The 16-year-old goalie made the U.S. girls’ water polo cadet team during a Memorial Day weekend tryout featuring 70 players.

Van Brande will vie for a spot on the national cadet travel team roster in tryouts July 14 through July 20 at Pomona-Pitzer College. Of the four goalies who made it this far, only two will join the 15-player travel squad.


DEFENSIVE ACE—Helena Van Brande, who will be a junior this fall, stars in the goalie cage for the Newbury Park girls’ water polo squad. 
IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers DEFENSIVE ACE—Helena Van Brande, who will be a junior this fall, stars in the goalie cage for the Newbury Park girls’ water polo squad. IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers “I have to work hard to make it,” Van Brande said. “I really want to.”

If she survives the next cut, the Panther will compete in Europe this August at an international tournament.

The experience of playing with the country’s best players in her age group has been invaluable for Van Brande.

“The intensity is a lot higher,” she said. “You have to compete to earn a spot. Representing the U.S., you have to think about every action because you’re representing your country.”

Van Brande was born in Sint- Niklaas, Belgium, and grew up in Lokeren, Belgium. She moved to the states eight years ago

She can’t be on the Olympic women’s water polo team until she becomes a citizen.

“That’s if I get there,” Van Brande said. “I’m not there yet.”

This summer, Van Brande is spending more time in the water than a marlin.

The pride of the Panthers practices with the NPHS water polo team five times a week.

There are also two weekly practices with her water polo club.

Van Brande trains five times a week with the City of Port Hueneme Junior Lifeguard program.

“That’s pretty much my summer,” Van Brande said with a happy-go-lucky smile.

On Fri., July 27, Van Brande will participate in the California Surf Lifesaving Association Junior Lifeguard regional competition at Newport Pier.

Last summer at the CSLSA competition at Seal Beach, Van Brande secured second place in the run-swim-run event and third place in the long paddle race.

“She will make an outstanding lifeguard,” said Casey Graham, director of the Port Hueneme Junior Lifeguard program.

The former head coach of the Newbury Park swim and girls’ water polo teams, Graham was the Panther goalie coach during Van Brande’s freshman campaign. He teaches Advanced Placement human geography, anthropology, comparative religions and world geography at NPHS.

“She’s one of the funnest people I’ve coached ever,” Graham said. “She’s got the greatest attitude, and the results are clearly paying off for her.”

Van Brande is one of roughly 95 students in the Port Hueneme Junior Lifeguard program, which attracts youngsters from Newbury Park, Thousand Oaks, Camarillo and Oxnard.

Van Brande’s sister, Eveline, is a Junior Lifeguard instructor.

“It’s cool to see how good she’s gotten,” said Eveline Van Brande, 20, a California Lutheran University student who starred for Newbury Park water polo. “She excels in school. She’s smart. She’s good at sports. She’s going to go far.

“I’m really happy to be her sister—and I can brag about her all I want.”

Helena Van Brande has started at goalie since the middle of her freshman season. She was an All-Marmonte first team selection last winter.

“It’s a big responsibility,” she said. “The team relies a lot on you. I like that.

“I’m always working to perfect my skills, especially passing because those have to be spot-on.”

She said she wants to play Division I water polo.

Dave Gleisberg, Newbury Park’s water polo head coach and swim team co-coach with Mike Giles, said Van Brande is self-motivated.

“She wants to be the best,” said Gleisberg, a Junior Lifeguard instructor. “Her attitude helps the rest of the goalies. She can lead goalie workouts. She’s brought the other goalies up with her. She’ll be one of our core starters. . . .

“She’s got the whole package. She’s an ideal athlete and student. She has skills, motivation and desire.”

Van Brande also stars in the swim lanes.

Van Brande, Grace O’Toole, Hannah Barthmuss and Anita Agopyan Miu share the NPHS school record in the 400-yard freestyle relay in 3 minutes, 43.46 seconds. The quartet set the record at the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 preliminaries this spring.

Van Brande’s notched personalbest times in the 50 freestyle (26.19 seconds) and 100 freestyle (56.5). During the spring swim season, she blitzes through the 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley.

The Panther stays on top of her classes. The honors student has a 4.6 grade-point average, and she enjoys reading, writing and drawing.

Her sister Catherine, 18, who graduated from NPHS this spring, suited up for the school’s water polo and swim teams. Catherine also participated in Junior Lifeguards. Her brother Alex, 21, played volleyball, while the youngest Van Brande, Benjamin, 13, is a Junior Lifeguard and budding water polo star.

Helena Van Brande has found her niche in the water.

“I like being out here,” she said, “and I love the water.”

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