The little country of Montenegro (population 600,000) has sent a giant of a sports team to compete in the United States. Think Brazilian soccer or Canadian ice hockey.
Montenegro’s pride is its water polo team, known as the Red Sharks. In only four years since the nation split from Serbia, they have bagged a European championship and finished fourth in the 2008 Olympic Games.
It was a predictably one-sided game when Montenegro played UCSB in a friendly game at the Campus Pool on Monday evening. The final score was 19-6. It could have been worse. The Red Sharks got off to a slow start, and early on the score was 3-3. Then they smelled blood in the water—or they saw the blood flushing the face of their coach, Petar Porobić. “I was angry,” Porobić said. “We are the champions of Europe. We must play with maximum seriousness from the start.”
Myles Christian, UCSB’s sophomore goalkeeper, paid the price for the coach’s wrath. Some of the world’s strongest, most fit athletes—physiologists have conferred that status on water polo players—attacked him relentlessly with fastballs fired from point-blank range. Christian did stop a five-meter penalty shot, the highlight of the game for the home team. The Gauchos’ early offensive success was aided by the addition of the Wigos—UCSB coach Wolf Wigo, a three-time Olympian, and his twin brothers, Jansen and Drac, four-time All-Americans at Stanford.
The Montenegrans, who are preparing for this summer’s international tournaments in Europe, have two more games to play against the U.S. national team: July 2 at Newport Harbor High, and July 4 at the National Training Center in Los Alamitos. Their tour began with a 7-6 defeat at the hands of the Americans, who were bronze medalists at the 2008 Olympics, in Thousand Oaks last weekend.
So how did the Red Sharks happen to put a makeshift UCSB team on their schedule? The seeds were planted a year ago when Santa Barbara adopted Kotor, a resort town on the coast of Montenegro, as its sixth sister city. “It’s a charming, ancient walled city with cobblestones,” said George Lilly, leader of the local delegation that brought the two cities together. “It’s a lot like Santa Barbara. It sits on hills above the water. The people are very active in parades and events.”
Looking for possible cultural exchanges between the cities, Lilly discovered Montenegro’s affinity for water polo. It did not take much to encourage the Red Sharks to visit Santa Barbara, which also has strong connections to the sport. The visiting team was treated to a barbecue Sunday by the Lillys, George and his wife, Denise, at their Hope Ranch home. “I can’t say enough about how nice these people are,” Lilly said.
Maybe they were not so nice for an hour in the UCSB pool. The Lillys watched their first water polo match, along with Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider. “It’s obvious, even if you don’t know water polo, that they are a championship team,” Lilly said.
WORLD CUP: It was an inspired move by owners of the Arlington Theatre to open up the 2,000-seat cinema palace for viewing several World Cup matches in the past week. It was packed for Ghana’s dramatic 2-1 victory over the United States. “There was a group of Ghana supporters, and they got applause when they left the theater,” Arlington manager Karen Killingsworth said. Also shown on the big screen were Brazil’s win over Chile (any assertion that Brazil no longer plays “the beautiful game” is like saying Catherine Deneuve has lost her looks) and Argentina’s cruel offside-aided whipping of Mexico. The Arlington will show the championship match on July 11.
VU-VU-VOOM: A few fans were blowing on vuvuzelas in the theater, and one can only imagine what thousands sound like in the stadiums. Soccer is not the only sport where noisemakers have made an impact. Just ask Bill Bertka. “The fans in Sacramento damaged my hearing,” said Bertka, the longtime Lakers assistant coach. “They were permitted to have cowbells behind our bench. My ears are still ringing from those damn cowbells.”
HAVE SHOT, WILL TRAVEL: Last season it was Germany, and next it will be Turkey for basketball journeyman Taylor Rochestie. The former Santa Barbara High and Washington State star has signed a contract with Galatasaray, one of the top clubs in Turkish sports. “I’m excited to experience new things,” said Rochestie, a 6’1″ guard who was named MVP of the 2010 EuroChallenge after leading Göttingen to the championship. He averaged 15.1 points in the Bundesliga and won the three-point shootout during the German All-Star Weekend. Rochestie has a dream for his life after European hoops: joining the succession of lefty guards for the Lakers (Gail Goodrich, Nick Van Exel, Derek Fisher).