Olympic Preview

U.S. National Men's Water Polo Team Ties Italy in Exhibition Game at DP

UCSB grad Brian Alexander scored the last U.S. goal in last Thursday’s exhibition game against Italy.
Paul Wellman

Take March Madness; insert a hose, and pump in 30 more sports and athletes from 200 countries; pressurize it further by limiting it to 16 days every four years — and you have Olympic Lunacy.

Brian Alexander hopes to become part of the spectacle in London this summer. The 28-year-old UCSB graduate is on the training roster of the U.S. men’s national water polo team. He has a strategy for coping with the pressure.

“I have a psychology degree,” Alexander said. “I’m interested in sports psychology. I think you get overwhelmed if you look at the whole picture. You have to focus on what’s in front of you. Take each moment as it comes.”

Alexander came through at a critical moment of last Thursday’s exhibition game between the U.S. and Italy at the Dos Pueblos High pool. With under a minute to play and the score tied, 8-8, the Americans gained possession. Coach Terry Schroeder called time-out. What did he tell his men? “Score,” Schroeder said. His instructions actually were more detailed than that. He drew up a play to set up Alexander on the left wing. “Brian is a finisher,” Schroeder said. “He’s not afraid to fail, which is a real positive thing in all players.”

When he received a pass from Tony Azevedo, the veteran U.S. star who was swarmed by Italian defenders, Alexander did not hesitate. He fired a 10-yard shot with such force that goalkeeper Stefano Tempesti could only watch it hit the back of the cage. The goal, with 35 seconds remaining, capped a stirring comeback by the Americans, who had fallen behind, 8-5, midway through the third quarter.

But Italy, the reigning world champion, responded in style. Afforded a man advantage after a U.S. ejection, the Italians scored on a close-range shot by Stefano Luongo with four seconds on the clock. The game ended in a 9-9 draw.

That’s indicative of how close the competition will be in the Olympic Games. There’s Hungary, the defending champion. There are the three powerful teams formed after the break-up of Yugoslavia: Serbia, Montenegro, and Croatia. There are Italy and Germany. “Seven countries are capable of winning the gold medal,” Schroeder said.

When Schroeder took over as the national team’s coach in 2007, the U.S. was not considered among the elite. The San Marcos High graduate, who had captained the silver-medal–winning teams at the 1984 and ’88 Olympics, made “back to the podium” the goal of the U.S. men. Schroeder forged a sense of unity and toughness in innovative ways, like having the players spend a day training with Navy Seals in 52-degree water. It paid off with another silver medal in 2008 at Beijing, as the Americans upset Italy, Croatia, Germany, and Serbia en route to the final against Hungary.

The Americans will sharpen their competitive edge in the coming months, including a series of Memorial Day weekend matches in Newport Beach against Hungary and Croatia, and the world Super League finals in Kazakhstan. Before the London Olympics begin on July 27, Schroeder and his coaching staff will have to finalize the U.S. roster.

“It’s not fun at all making the cuts,” Schroeder said. “I don’t sleep for a week going into it. I’m the dream taker.”

HOOP HIGHLIGHTS: Westmont College junior Tugce Canitez was named the 2012 State Farm/Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) NAIA Player of the Year. A native of Izmir, Turkey — and candidate for the Turkish Olympic team — the 6′2″ Canitez averaged a double-double of 19.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and helped lead the Warriors to the NAIA Women’s Basketball Championship quarterfinals. Her award was announced at the WBCA banquet during the women’s Final Four. Baylor’s 6′8″ center Brittney Griner received the top NCAA honor. … UCSB’s Carlene Mitchell, who led the Gaucho women into the NCAA tournament and a first-round game against Baylor, was one of three finalists for the WBCA’s Spalding Maggie Dixon Division I Rookie Coach of the Year. The award went to Jennifer Hoover of High Point University. … Gaucho guard Emilie Johnson was named to the Lowe’s Senior CLASS First Team. She was a fan favorite in voting for the Lowe’s top senior award, which went to Stanford’s Nnemkadi Ogwumike. … Santa Barbara Breakers coach Curt Pickering announced the signing of Greg Somogyi, UCSB’s 7′3″ graduating senior. The Breakers will open their West Coast Professional Basketball League spring season on Saturday, April 7, at San Marcos High against the Los Angeles Advantage. Tip-off is slated for 7:05 p.m.

PITCH PERFECT: In synch with the opening of the major league season, S.B. author — and former Santa Barbara Independent sports writer — Jim Buckley will sign his new book, Perfect: The Inside Story of Baseball’s Twenty Perfect Games on Tuesday, April 10, at 7 p.m. at Chaucer’s Books (3321 State St.).


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