2008-01-24 / Sports

U.S. water polo teams to take on Canada this Saturday at Rio Mesa

Men practicing at CLU, Oaks Christian
By Thomas Gase tgase@theacorn.com

JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers MEN AT WORK- The U.S. men's water polo team goes through warm-up drills during Tuesday's practice session at Cal Lutheran. The squad, which also works out at Oaks Christian, will play a friendly against Canada Saturday night at Rio Mesa High. JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers MEN AT WORK- The U.S. men's water polo team goes through warm-up drills during Tuesday's practice session at Cal Lutheran. The squad, which also works out at Oaks Christian, will play a friendly against Canada Saturday night at Rio Mesa High. A fan of the USA water polo teams can book a flight from Los Angeles to Beijing to see the 2008 Summer Olympics in August. The trip is nearly 13 hours and 6,257 miles.

Or, fans can save a few bucks and watch the teams play in Ventura County this weekend.

Before the USA men's and women's teams compete for a gold medal, the squads will play an exhibition game against Canada at Rio Mesa High's pool this Saturday.

The women's game will begin at 5 p.m., with the men's contest following shortly after at 6:30 p.m.

"It's a good chance for us to play another team, instead of scrimmaging against ourselves," men's assistant coach Ryan Brown said. "After the game, we'll be able to evaluate where we are as a team a little better."

Men's water polo player Tim Hutten agreed with his coach.

"We're looking at this game as a way to see where we're at," Hutten said. "We've been working very hard in practice, and this game will show if we've been executing well enough."

While the women's team will travel back to its training facility in Los Alamitos after the game to continue their daily practices, the men's team will continue to train at Cal Lutheran and Oaks Christian. The practice sessions are open to the public.

The men's team still needs to cut 12 players from its current 25-man roster, which means the practices are very competitive. Brown said all 25 players still have a shot at making the Olympic squad.

"I try not to worry about the fact that a lot of us won't make the team," Hutten said. "I just concentrate on the practice in front of me and always give it my best.

"I'd say, for the past year, I've realized I have a shot, and it's become a huge goal of mine to make the team. The one thing I want to make sure of is that I have no regrets later in life. I want to look back and say that I gave it everything I had each day in practice."

Men's player Brian Alexander, who also coaches the girls' water polo team at Westlake High, is also competing for a spot.

"The ultimate goal is to become a better team," Alexander said. "Hopefully I can fit one of the roles this team wants.

"It's harder on the parents than anyone, since they don't know if their son is going to be on the team or not, and they don't know if they have to make travel plans or not."

Although the men's team features top athletes from all over the country, Alexander realized it can be a small world when he recognized Brown from his playing days at Foothill High.

"Coach Brown was about two years ahead of me in high school, and I've actually known him since I was 13 years old," Alexander said. "Ever since I've known him he's given me good advice, such as always come to practice with a good attitude."

The men's team is coming off a seventh-place finish in the 2004 Olympics and hasn't medaled since the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea, something head coach Terry Schroeder knows a lot about.

Before taking over the head coaching duties from Ricardo Azevedo last summer, Schroeder was a member of the 1984 and 1988 squads that finished second to Yugoslavia each year.

While Schroeder will lead the men's team for the first time, women's head coach Guy Baker is a little more experienced, having coached the 2000 and 2004 women's teams.

The women's team, which currently has 15 players, is a defensive one, according to Baker.

"We're a pressing team on defense," Baker said. "A lot of our offense comes from our defense."

The women's team has only competed since the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia, where the squad won a silver medal. The team took home bronze medals in 2004.

Three players on the women's roster- attackers Brenda Villa, Erika Lorenz and Heather Petri- have been on the team since 2000. Defender Natalie Golda is the only other returnee from the 2004 squad.

The women's team is trying to get healthy, as Lorenz, Golda, Petri and attacker Patty Cardenas have been sidelined with injuries and may not play Saturday against Canada. Still, Baker was optimistic about the matchup against the northern rivals.

"This is a great opportunity for us," Baker said. "It's not every day we get to play a game in our home country, and I believe it's been five years since we played a game in Ventura County. Hopefully a lot of fans will turn up and we can give them a good show."

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