LOS ALAMITOS, Calif., January 12. THE No. 6-ranked U.S. men’s water polo team, which swept Canada last week in a three-game series, will play host to No. 11 Germany for three games this weekend (Jan. 16-17, 19) at three different venues in Southern California.
Friday (Jan. 16), the U.S. will open the series against Germany with a 7:30 p.m. game at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo. Game two will be set at the USA Water Polo National Aquatic Center in Los Alamitos on Saturday (Jan. 17), with the first sprint scheduled for 1:30 p.m. The teams will take a day off on Sunday and return to action on Monday night (Jan. 19) in an 8:00 p.m. game at Belmont Plaza on the Long Beach waterfront.
Team USA, which qualified for the 2004 Olympics by winning gold at last summer’s Pan American Games, has been one of the game’s most improved teams in the last year. Led by a trio of returning Olympians in Wolf Wigo (New York, NY/Stanford/New York AC/Ethnikos Piraeus), Ryan Bailey (Long Beach, CA/UC Irvine/Newport WPF/JUG Dubrovnik), and Tony Azevedo (Long Beach, CA/Stanford/Long Beach Shore), Team USA followed its Pan Am triumph with a third-place finish at the 2003 FINA World League Super Final.
Wigo, the 2003 USA Water Polo Male Athlete of the Year and two-time Olympian (1996, 2000), leads a strong outside attack with driving-mate Azevedo, a 2003 Sullivan Award nominee and the leading scorer of the 2003 FINA World League. Bailey, who was one of the youngest members of the 2000 Olympic team, has grown to be one of the game’s strongest and most accomplished centers.
“These games will mark the start of our Olympic preparation,” said U.S. head coach Ratko Rudic. “We have players on our team that are competing for spots and trying to get better, and Germany is a good team. I will expect our players to take a very serious approach to these games.”
USA defender Layne Beaubien (Coronado, CA/Stanford/Olympic Club/Halkida, Crete) is recovering from a cut above his eye he sustained in last week’s Canada series, but is expected to return to action in time for this weekend’s games.
Germany made it through a rough second week of the 2003 World Championships in Barcelona with an 11th place finish. Earlier in 2003, the Germans notched their best finish at European Championships since 1995, taking home sixth place and registering big wins over Spain and Greece in the process.
Last week, Germany finished third in the Hamm Tournament on its home soil behind tournament-winner Croatia and second-place Russia. Germany is led in the goal by Alexander Tchigir, one of the game’s top netminders and a bronze medal winner with Russia at the 1992 Olympics. Heiko Nossek, along with USA’s Azevedo, was the second-highest scorer at the 2003 World Championships. Germany is anchored at center by Marc Politze.
“They will be in better playing shape than us because they just played a tournament and they’re getting ready for Olympic Qualifications,” said Rudic. “These will be tough matches for us.”
Admission for these high-level international games will be $8.00 for adults and $5.00 for students at the gate.
SCHEDULE: Team USA vs. Germany Series
Friday, January 16
Capistrano Valley High Schoo, Mission Viejo, CA
Saturday, January 17
USA Water Polo National Aquatic Center, Los Alamitos, CA
Monday, January 19
Belmont Olympic Plaza, Long Beach, CA