LOS ALAMITOS, CA, September 24. TOP female water polo talent, including three Olympians, will splash down here for the 3rd Annual Speedo Top 40 Festival on November 5-7 at the USA Water Polo National Aquatic Center, reports Eric Velasquez, Director of Media Relations for USA Water Polo.
The Top 40 Festival, started in 2002, brings together dozens of elite female water polo players for a three-day event, jam packed with high-level competition, music, spectator contests, silent auctions and much more. Last year’s tournament featured the whole of the World Champion U.S. women’s team, all 13 of them dispersed among four Top 40 teams.
The third installment of this growing tournament will feature yet another new twist: a 12-team, 24-game girls open tournament that will run in conjunction with the Top 40 tournament games.
This year’s tourney will also feature four teams, including the No. 2 ranked U.S. junior women’s squad, which will take its full squad of 14 athletes against the other three teams of 10. The junior team coaching staff will be using this tournament not only as a competitive tune-up, but as an evaluation tool as it moves closer to the selection of its final roster for the 2005 FINA Junior World Championships in Perth, Australia, this coming January.
“This year's Top 40 will be extremely beneficial for the junior team because we will be playing as our own team, not a mixed team,” said U.S. junior team head coach Kyle Utsumi. “At that point, we will have 12 field players and must narrow the team down to the 11 who will compete in Perth. We are carrying 18 players right now and will go to 14
in late October. It is a strong group with competition at all positions.”
U.S. National Team head coach Guy Baker is excited to get the juniors in the water against some good competition. A draft for the other three teams will be held in the coming weeks. These three teams will be guided by youth-level (18-under) zone coaches still to be announced.
“We’re going to try to put together three really good teams that will help the junior girls prepare for World Championships,” said Baker. “This will be good for them to get game experience, but more importantly, they’ll be able to play together. They don’t get a whole lot of opportunities to play together as a team.”
In the mix with the 44 athletes that will be competing that weekend are 2004 Olympic bronze medalists Natalie Golda (La Habra, CA/UCLA/New York AC), Kelly Rulon (San Diego, CA/UCLA) and Thalia Munro (Santa Barbara, CA/UCLA).
This year, a girls open tournament will bring 12 more teams into the waters of the USA Water Polo National Aquatic Center. The teams will be accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis and can carry up to 15 athletes. The goal is to give more athletes exposure to the National Team environment while setting the games in a festival-type atmosphere.
“We want the Top 40 Festival to keep growing,” said Baker. “The idea is to make it a fun event for people to come to where they can see some great water polo and have a great time doing it.”
Among the activities planned for the weekend are a radar gun station, a weight room circuit, some children’s entertainment and a dunk-tank, where fans will get the opportunity to put Baker in the drink.
“If people want to pay more money for us to take the cage down for their throw, that’s fine,” said a good-humored Baker, suspecting he’ll be a pretty popular victim in the tank. “They’ll just have to back up a little bit.”
The games will also serve as a tool for Baker and his staff to evaluate players as they look ahead to their own roster selections for the 2005 World Championships in Canada and beyond.
“This is a good way for us to check in with some players to see where we are with things,” said Baker. “And maybe to get a look at some people we haven’t had the chance to look at as much before.”
For more information on the Top 40 Festival or the open tournament, contact the Women’s Programs Office at 562-799-8506.