By Eric Velazquez
Sydney, Australia—While many Australians were sitting down to a cup of coffee and the morning paper, and people in the U.S. were fast asleep intheir beds with visions of water polo dancing in their heads, the U.S. men’swater polo team was busy winning its first game of the 2000 Olympics.
It was a simple plan. Early to bed and very early to rise for Team USA in preparation for this morning’s 9:30 a.m. game against the Netherlands. How
early is early?“We got up at about 4:40 this morning,” said head coach John Vargas. “We got in the weight room and rode stationary bike and did some other things to get the blood pumping and our minds focused on the game.”
Well, it worked.The U.S. chalked up its first win of the week, 12-8, over the Netherlands. Apparently, the Dutch didn’t get their z’s last night, or they got too much this morning. USA scored early and often, going ahead 4-2 in the first quarter, thanks in large part to a pair of goals each by Chris Humbert and Tony Azevedo. Humbert’s third goal of the day came with 3:56 to play in the second quarter on an extra-man situation to give the U.S. a 5-2 lead. The U.S. continued to have its way down at set that quarter, with Kyle Kopp scoring the first of his two goals from the hole to make the score 6-3. Ryan Bailey scored his first Olympic goal as time expired in the third
quarter, as USA went up 10-6. Wolf Wigo added to that three and a half minutes later, scoring his fifth goal of the tournament. Wigo has now hit on five of his seven shot attempts. With 1:17 left to go, Humbert pocketed his fourth goal of the day to top off the U.S. scoring, which shot 12 of 21 on the day.
Humbert now leads the team with seven goals.
Goalkeeper Dan Hackett heated up for the U.S., stopping 10 of 18 shots ongoal, who attributed his performance to the team’s defensive effort. “I think the key today was our defense,” he said. “We were able to stop their counterattacks well and that helped us get ready quicker.” Humbert agreed.
“We shut them down and made them make passes that they didn’t want to make,” he said. “We forced turnovers, we made steals…all of these things meant that the Netherlands couldn’t get into a routine. They had no rhythm.”
It could be the U.S. who is in a rhythm now. The win, despite being their first, throws coach Vargas and company into fourth place, a spot that needs to be maintained for them to advance to the quarterfinals. Team USA is trailed by winless Greece and Holland in the standings, with two games left in preliminary play.
Up Next for the U.S.:
The U.S. will again play the “Sunrise” game tomorrow morning against gold-medal favorite Hungary at 9:30 a.m. Hungary has won six Olympic golds, more than any other country, but have not won a medal since their bronze in 1980. Their Olympic performance in recent years has been puzzling because they have some of the greatest individual talents in the world. The riddle
of getting the great individuals to play as a team would appear to have been solved by Coach Denes Kemeny. As winners of the 1999 FINA World Cup, the
Hungarians go into Sydney as the gold medal favorite in the eyes of most international observers. They have great personnel balance with three excellent left-handers and great outside shooting to go along with the solid two-meter play of Gergely Kiss. They have several starting players capable of playing two-meters which creates many mismatches. They play a split zone
defense, which results in many easy fast-break scoring situations. Tibor Benedek may be one of the best players in the world, but the Hungarians won
the 1999 World Cup without him. Tamas Kasas and Zsolt Varga are proven international stars while newcomer Petar Biros is an emerging talent. Goalkeeper Zoltan Kosz is among the best.
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