On an afternoon of international goodwill at Dos Pueblos High’s Elings Aquatic Center, the U.S.A. men’s water polo team got a little too generous in the end. Australia scored the last two goals to defeat the Americans 11-9 in a pre-Olympic exhibition game on Sunday, June 8.
The high-scoring affair was entertaining to the spectators, who filled all available seats and were standing five or six deep around the pool deck. But for Terry Schroeder, making his first appearance in his hometown as head coach of the U.S. men, it was a disappointing performance by their defense. “Our goal is to hold teams under six [goals],” said Schroeder, a San Marcos High graduate who was the captain of the 1984 and ’88 teams that won Olympic silver medals. A day earlier at Campolindo High in Moraga, the Americans shut out the Aussies in the first half en route to a 6-4 victory. The rubber match of their three-game California series will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 10, at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
The full-sized Olympic pool at the Elings Aquatic Center proved to be a world-class facility, even without a full complement of bleachers. “When we did the ground-breaking a year ago, we knew we’d have some good competition here,” said Susan Deacon, who helped organize the fund-raising for the project. “But we had no idea it would be this good.”
The pool is home to one of the nation’s best high school water polo teams – the CIF champion Dos Pueblos girls – but the NFL-sized athletes in this match displayed a new dimension of speed and power.
Before the game, there was a glitch in the sound system that cut off the last chorus of Australia’s national anthem, but in a timely display of fair play, the “Star Spangled Banner” also ended prematurely at “land of the free.”
The score also was even at 9-9 after Jeff Powers slammed a goal for the U.S. with 5.5 minutes remaining in the final quarter. Australia’s Tim Neesham broke the tie by squeezing a shot just inside the post. After the Americans missed several opportunities, Sam McGregor scored the clincher with a lob shot over U.S. goalie Brandon Brooks with 23 seconds remaining.
Nine different Aussies scored, making it a long day for Brooks, a 6’6″ goalie who also played some basketball at UCLA. “We gave up four or five too many,” Brooks said. Two of them were outside shots by Grant Richardson that skipped like hard-flung pebbles off the surface of the pool.
Tony Azevedo led the home attack with three goals, including two in the first quarter when the Americans took a 4-1 lead. They led 6-4 midway through the third period, but Australia then went on a 4-0 run to go ahead 8-6 heading into the final frame. “I gave the boys a bit of a spray after the opening minutes,” said Aussie coach John Fox. “I told them what I thought and threw in a few adjectives.” Fox competed against Schroeder in the 1988 Olympics. “I played defense against Terry, and he was very, very strong,” Fox said. “I’m trying to get my boys to be like him, to take the good with the bad and keep going.”
Both Schroeder and Fox face the challenge of cutting down their rosters to 13 men for the Beijing Olympics. The U.S. is currently carrying 17. One of them is UCSB grad Brian Alexander. He was in the pool during the final minute Sunday and almost scored a goal on a ball that deflected off his fingers to Aussie goalie James Stanton.
“Nine of us are fighting for spots on the team,” Alexander said. “It’s my lifelong dream [to play in the Olympics]. I’m trying to do it right every time.”