Sibling Rivalry

Photo: In high school, Zach White (above) and brother Griffin (below) played water polo together. Now they attend rival schools.
Evan Walbridge and The Daily Bruin/Staff
In high school, Zach White (above) and brother Griffin (below) played water polo together. Now they attend rival schools.

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16 year-old Zach White was doing homework when his younger brother Griffin started jumping on him and harassing him. Zach had enough, so he threw Griffin on the bed and popped him in the mouth, knocking one of his teeth loose.

"I didn't mean to knock his tooth loose," Zach says. "That was the last time we had a real fight because I think he got the message. That was probably the most physical we've ever gotten."

Zach, a senior All-American center, plays for the Cal water polo squad; Griffin plays for UCLA.

The brothers have long since stopped pummeling each other - outside of the pool, that is.

"If I can get a little jab on him in the game I'll take it, and he'll do the same for me," Zach says.

They have now learned to be a little more civil with each other, though it can be rather difficult when one or both have on school apparel at home in Orange County, Calif. When eating a meal you might hear something to the effect of "take that crap off!" or "get that out of my kitchen!"

As much as they rag on each other now, things were not always that way.

The dynamic duo of the White brothers lasted for two years at El Toro high school, ending with a CIF Division 1 championship in Zach's senior year and Griffin's sophomore year. Between the two of them, they notched five goals, two assists and four steals in an 11-8 win over Northwood High.

Their performance in the pool reflected their living together and being so close in ways that just weren't possible with other teammates.

"I know what Griffin thought. If I saw Griffin had a look in his eyes and was going make a move I knew exactly where to put the ball and when he'd pop up and shoot," Zach says. "It became that Kobe and Shaq relationship (where) I'll make you better out there and you'll make me better in here."

They were able to roll over most anyone that got in their way. If an opponent got too physical and got away with hitting one of them, they'd hatch up a plan after the game to punish the offender next time they got the chance.

Zach came to Cal to continue his career, but everything changed when Griffin chose UCLA.

The White brothers had no choice but to turn their wraths on each other.

"(I'm) always trying to get something on him, it's always about who's doing better, who's doing worse," Zach says, calling Griffin "a total stat freak."

Rather than greeting each other enthusiastically and with a hug, they've taken an approach closer to a handshake paired with a stern look in the eye.

They can be likened to Dr. Frankenstein and his monster because Griffin's water polo skills, now being used against Cal, are partly a product of Zach's teaching.

"(Zach) was probably the strongest kid in high school so it was beneficial to practice against him and then have to play against a weaker opponent in the games," Griffin says.

Having been such close teammates in high school, Zach and Griffin also know each other's games inside and out.

"(Griffin) just knows my tendencies, when I'm tired, what I hate," Zach says. "I know the things Griffin does likewise,"

That information came in handy when the Bruins played the Bears.

"But not enough to where they were successful," Zach says, alluding to Cal's recent 11-8 win over UCLA on Oct. 9.

Generally, bragging rights stay with the brother who has the last win under his Speedo.

Zach cites the Bears' loss last year to the Bruins in the MPSF Tournament finals which kept Cal from having a shot at the NCAA championship title. Upon his return home for winter break, Griffin greeted him grinning from ear to ear.

"We really hadn't talked after (MPSFs) and I was giving him a lot of shit when we beat him earlier in the season," Zach says. "So he was just like 'I told you that shit would come back to bite you in the ass'."

Zach claims Griffin still makes comments every now and then and he's had to deal with it for almost the whole past year. Although Zach technically reclaimed bragging rights with the win a few weeks ago, a regular conference game doesn't quite hold the same weight as the sting of last year's season-ending match.

"It was very satisfying to knock him out because he kept telling me before the tournament how they were going to win and then go to NCAAs," Griffin says.

Whatever the case, there's no denying that, like most brothers, they enjoy and embrace giving each other a hard time. Even the White parents had trouble acclimating to the change. The first time Zach and Griffin faced off at UCLA, their parents sat on the side away from both fan sections, politely clapping for both sides as to not show any preference or allegiance to either team.

That has since changed.

"Last year my dad told me he rooted for me because I was going to graduate before Griffin and Griffin would have two more years after me, so I saw that as fair," Zach says, "but it's problematic for my mom."

Every now and then Zach catches his mom wearing a UCLA sweatshirt, breaking her position of neutrality.

"You're not my real mother!" Zach will joke with her.

It's clear as Zach smiles about his poor mom's anxiety that the brothers play it up in front of her.

"She can't cope with it too well, she's like, 'you guys always fight about this crap, I can't deal with it. Just go away!'" Zach says with a laugh.

As much as Griffin's choice to go to UCLA is a continual source of tension, as well as entertainment, it's something that they've all come to respect.

At the end of the day after all the competition, they're still brothers that care about each other.

"When I left the pool deck at UCLA, right across was Zach and Griffin just sitting on the wall and talking," Cal head coach Kirk Everist says.

No egos, no trash talking. Just brothers.


Byron Atashian covers men's water polo. Contact him at [email protected]

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