LONG BEACH, Calif., July 20. USA Water Polo announced its men’s Olympic roster recently at the Charter All Digital Aquatic Centre in Long Beach (Calif.). Driver Wolf Wigo was named to his third consecutive Olympic Team.
The U.S. roster of 13 will include three players from the squad that finished sixth at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
“This is one of the most important parts of our Olympic preparation because we’re down to our 13 and we can now narrow our focus and become more specific with each part of our training,” said U.S. head coach Ratko Rudic, who coached teams to three consecutive gold medals between 1984-1992 and won one as a player with Yugoslavia in 1968.
Team USA capped off 2003 with a third place finish at the FINA World League Super Finals in New York and a gold medal finish at the Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic. This year, the U.S. has fared well internationally, taking three out of four games from No. 4 Greece on its home turf and registering a second place finish at a four-team international tournament in Moscow. The U.S. also notched an 11-9 win against World Champion and Olympic favorite Hungary back on July 5.
“This now takes the psychological pressure off of the 13 men on the team,”
said Rudic. “I will expect them to be much more involved than before. These 13 have to live just for this Olympic tournament.”
Team USA by Position
Brandon Brooks (Honolulu, HI/UCLA/Los Angeles WPC) and Genai
Kerr (Imperial Beach, CA/UC Irvine/Newport WPF) will comprise one of the
most physically imposing — and effective — goalkeeping tandems in water
polo today. At a combined height of 13-feet 3-inches, and a collective arm
span longer than that, Brooks and Kerr definitely cover more cage than most.
At last year’s World Championships, Brooks drew acclaim as one of the best
red-capped players in the game. His 14 stops in a 4-2 loss to Greece at
Worlds, combined with his ability to feed the ball deep into the USA
counterattack, helped to make Brooks one of water polo’s biggest summer
surprises in 2003. Kerr, who represented the U.S. on its World Championship and Pan American Games teams last summer, is a rangey, long-armed goalkeeper with good cage sense. Brooks stole onto the scene in 2003 after a break from the National Team program.
One of Team USA’s main areas of improvement in the last four years has been defense. Rudic’s aggressive and punishingly European style has worn well on each of Team USA’s able-bodied defenders, helping to hold teams like Hungary and Italy to a quiet whimper on offense.
Layne Beaubien (Coronado, CA/Stanford/New York AC), a sixth-year National
Teamer, is regarded as one of the best in the world at shutting down
opponents’ hole play. With one of the team’s best shooting arms, he’s also a strong threat on offense.
Dan Klatt (Fresno, CA/UC Irvine/Newport WPF) has stepped his game up a notch on defense. His strength and speed have helped him develop into a solid stopper for coach Rudic. The junior member of the defensive staff is Jesse Smith (Coronado, CA/Pepperdine/Malibu Water Polo). Smith’s size and natural water polo instincts have the 20-year-old positioned to be a mainstay on the U.S. National Team for years to come.
Rounding out the list of defenders is the versatile Chris Segesman (Santa
Barbara, CA/Long Beach State/Los Angeles WPC). Segesman, who possesses good speed for his size, is solid on both sides of the ball and has become a vital part of the U.S. counterattack.
It’s no secret that much of the game of water polo revolves around the
center position. Teams with a strong center enjoy more options on offense.
Teams with two strong centers, like the U.S., force opponents to keep their focus there for 28 minutes.
UC Irvine alums Ryan Bailey (Long Beach, CA/UC Irvine/Newport WPF) and Jeff Powers (San Luis Obispo, CA/UC Irvine/Newport WPF) offer opponents a whole list of different and separate headaches to worry about.
Bailey, a 2000 Olympian, is Team USA’s resident big man at 6’5” and 255 lbs. Since Rudic’s arrival in 2001, Bailey’s game has been elevated to a new level. Bailey is a massive presence in the trenches and is one of the
toughest men to guard in water polo. His ability to score with either hand, rom the posts and with his back to the goal have lumped Bailey into the same skill class as international stars such as Spain’s Ivan Perez and
Russia’s Revaz Tchomakhidze.
He’s not quite 250 lbs., but what Powers lacks in body mass, he more than
makes up for in versatility. His ability to score from the depths of two
meters or the distance of seven have had the water polo community raise a
collective brow of curiosity. A volatile shooting arm and strong legs have
turned Powers into one of the game’s worst kept secrets. Former Stanford
star Peter Hudnut (Encino, CA/Stanford/Los Angeles WPC), a powerful,
creative player at two-meters will serve as Rudic’s Olympic alternate.
At the 2000 Olympics, the U.S. featured one of the tournament’s best one-two punches in Wolf Wigo (New York, NY/Stanford/New York AC) and Tony Azevedo (Long Beach, CA/Stanford/Long Beach Shore). Both men have returned to lead Team USA’s perimeter attack, but a talented supporting cast boasts more weapons than ever and is sure to keep opponents guessing.
Wigo will be the team’s lone three-time Olympian. Having also represented
the U.S. at the 1996 and 2000 Games, Wigo becomes the first player with a
trio of Olympiads under his belt since Chris Duplanty and Mike Evans
accomplished the feat in 1996. Wigo is a marked man in international waters. He is unquestionably one of the game’s best outside shooters but is also a gifted distributor of the ball.
Some of Wigo’s game has rubbed off on USA phenom Tony Azevedo. Azevedo was
the youngest member of the 2000 Olympic team but has since grown into one of water polo’s most feared offensive threats. His marked increase in strength since the Sydney Games have propelled Azevedo into a class of his own on both sides of the ball. He is both a pure scorer and a persistent defender with the ability to alter the complexion of any game.
Wigo and Azevedo share some pretty good company on the outside with Adam
Wright (Seal Beach, CA/UCLA/New York AC) and Brett Ormsby (El Cajon,
CA/UCLA/Bruin Water Polo). Wright is a slick and instinctual player with a
great shot and pinpoint passing ability. Ormsby, one of the team’s youngest players, has enjoyed steady improvement at the international level due in large part to his strong shot and speed on the counterattack.
Omar Amr (Fullerton, CA/UC Irvine/Newport WPF) was one of the last players cut from the team in 2000, but has come back as one of the most improved players in the pool for Team USA. Stronger, faster and more experienced than four years ago, Amr has become a defensive menace and a ball-winner for the U.S. He is one of the fastest players in the game today and is a key weapon in Team USA’s transition game.
The sixth-ranked U.S. men’s water polo team will have its work cut out when play opens on the men’s Olympic water polo tournament on August 15 in
Athens, Greece. Team USA will compete in Group A with top-ranked Hungary,
No. 3 Serbia and Montenegro (formerly Yugoslavia), No. 9 Croatia, No. 10
Russia, and unranked but highly competitive Kazakhstan.
“This is the toughest Olympic draw I’ve ever seen,” said Rudic. “I’ve never
even heard of a group this tough from top to bottom.”
Hungary, the reigning Olympic champ, captured gold at last year’s World
Championships and went on to duplicate that finish at the FINA World League Super Finals, drawing buzz as the team to beat in Athens. Serbia and Montenegro, who took bronze at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, finished third at last year’s World Championships and fourth at the World League
Not to be discounted are Croatia and Russia. Croatia last medaled at the
1996 Olympic Games, taking silver in Atlanta. Russia, the winner of the
first FINA World League in 2002, has been one of the stronger teams in the
world in recent years, despite its 10th place finish in Barcelona last
summer. Kazakhstan, which was absent from the 2003 World Championships, is
one of the game’s most physically talented teams and will be tough to
Group B will be extremely competitive as well. No. 2 Italy will be joined by
host Greece (No. 4), No. 5 Spain, No. 7 Australia, No. 11 Germany and
2004 U.S. Men’s Water Polo Olympic Roster
Name Position Ht. Wt. Hometown Education Club
Omar Amr Demver -0 205 Fullerton, CA UC Irvine ’97,
Harvard Med ’06 Newport Water Polo Foundation
Tony Azevedo ^ Driver 6-1 195 Long Beach, CA Stanford ’04 Long
Ryan Bailey ^ 2M Offense 6-6 250 Long Beach, CA UC Irvine ’99
JUG Dubrovnik (Croatia)/NWPF
Layne Beaubien 2M Defense 6-6 215 Coronado, CA Stanford ’99
New York Athletic Club
Brandon Brooks Goalkeeper 6-7 235 Honolulu, HI UCLA ’05
Los Angeles Water Polo
Peter Hudnut ~ 2M Offense 6-5 235 Encino, CA Stanford ’03
Los Angeles Water Polo
Genai Kerr Goalkeeper 6-8 210 Imperial Beach, CA UC
Irvine ’00 Newport Water Polo Foundation
Dan Klatt 2M Defense 6-5 205 Fresno, CA UC Irvine ’01
Newport Water Polo Foundation
Brett Ormsby Driver 6-3 190 El Cajon, CA UCLA ’05
Bruin Water Polo
Jeff Powers 2M Offense 6-7 230 San Luis Obispo, CA UC
Irvine ’03 Newport Water Polo Foundation
Chris Segesman 2M Defense 6-5 205 Santa Barbara, CA CSU
Long Beach ’02 Los Angeles Water Polo
Jesse Smith 2M Defense 6-4 240 Coronado, CA
Pepperdine ’05 New York Athletic Club
Wolf Wigo * # ^ Driver 6-3 195 New York, NY Stanford ’96 New
York Athletic Club
Adam Wright Driver 6-3 195 Seal Beach, CA UCLA ’01 New
York Athletic Club
* Team Captain
# 1996 Olympian
^ 2000 Olympian
~ Olympic Alternate
Head Coach Ratko Rudic
Assistant Coach Dan Leyson
Assistant Coach Ricardo Azevedo
Goalkeeper Coach Rich Corso
Manager Barbara Kalbus
Weight Trainer Joe Bailey