Los Alamitos, Calif., February 15, 2002-The USA Water Polo men's national team has typically been among the world's most competitive programs. However, it has managed to do so without the benefit of a
professional league like many of its European counterparts.
But now, USWP is working to level the playing field by restructuring its own brand of elite competition, the Premier League, to include more games for its athletes against the nation's best.
The Premier League, now in its third season, is the only elite league competition in the U.S. since the late 1980s when the Collegiate/Club system was eliminated. Under that system, collegiate athletes were eligible to play a full schedule of games within the USA Water Polo club system in the spring and summer seasons, but, since 1988, NCAA restrictions have prevented collegiate athletes from playing games with club teams. Although this restriction was alleviated to some extent in 1999 (collegiate athletes could play with club teams after May 1), the collegiate club system has not yet been fully reinstated. The Premier League will include collegiate athletes participating in a tryout process during competition that is part of the National Team program and
long-term Olympic selection process.
In addition to providing high-level competition, the league will serve as a tryout for athletes hoping to make the U.S. National Team rosters for international competitions such as the FINA World League, FINA World Cup, FINA World Championships, World University Games, Pan American Games and the Olympic Games. In addition, it provides the National Team coaches an opportunity to observe players who are candidates for the National Junior and Youth teams. The ultimate long-term goal of the new structure is to give USA Water Polo a boost in international play, where it meets opponents that have been well oiled by years of elite league competition.
"This is just the beginning," said USA Men's National Team Head Coach Ratko Rudic. "The league is not yet in a position to help us much in international play. But, if all goes according to plan, the new structure should help us improve in that department significantly in the years to come."
The new league format also gives the national team members more games during the course of a year, giving them something to shoot for besides intersquad scrimmages.
"This gives us something to look forward to," said U.S. National Team goalkeeper Genai Kerr. "With all the training we do, this league gives us a chance to have competitive game situations. It helps keep us sharp, gives the fans more chances to see us play, and it's great motivation for people who may not yet be playing on the National Senior Team."
While past seasons have been both competitive and entertaining, league commissioner Andy Burke believes that the new structure will be much more interesting for players and fans, alike. The league will consist of eight teams from around the country-four of the nation's top club teams and four USA National Zone Teams, the latter of which will be comprised of athletes with NCAA eligibility remaining and other non-club affiliated athletes striving to make the cut for senior-level
"This season's schedule is far more comprehensive than the previous two seasons," Burke said. "In the past two season, we kept competition within each zone area, and only met for the Premier League Final. The current schedule has each team playing locally before the semifinals, then playing teams from all regions in the semifinals, followed by the league final."
League play will consist of six semifinal tournaments over three weekends between February 23 and April 14. League finals will be held the weekend of April 19-21 in Northern California, with each of the eight teams being seeded according to their finishes in semifinal play.
Coaches and Players
Player rosters were determined by way of a series of tryouts in each region and will be announced in late February. Tryouts were open to all athletes within the zones, provided that they are currently registered with USWP. The tryouts included a wide range of age groups and experience levels-high school, college, post-collegiate, former Olympians, and current members of the national team.
While player rosters are still to come, the coaches for each of the
eight teams have already been announced:
Top Returning Club Teams
New York Athletic Club: Scott Schulte and Jeff
Olympic Club: Pete Cutino
Newport Water Polo Foundation: Ted Newland
Long Beach Shore: Michael Ashe
USA National Teams
Northeast: Mike Schofield
Coastal California: Jim McMillan
Southern California: Brian Kreutzkamp
Pacific: Doug Arth
The coaches were selected via an extensive application and review process through their zone chairs. The zone chairs then narrowed the fields for final approval by a committee comprising National Team Head Coach Ratko Rudic, the zone chair, and the chairman of the Men's
International/Olympic Committee (MIOC), Bill Barnett.
The Premier League semifinals, which determine the seeding for the League Championship, will take place over three weekends. Each host team
is listed, along with the dates of each semifinal tournament.
Tournament Dates Host Site
Tournament 1 February 23-24, 2002 Coastal California Los
Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base
Tournament 2 February 23-24, 2002 Northeast Zone US Naval
Academy, Annapolis, MD
Tournament 3 March 9-10, 2002 Long Beach Shore El
Dorado High School, Placentia, CA
Tournament 4 March 9-10, 2002 Newport Water Polo UC
Irvine, Irvine, CA
Tournament 5 April 13-14, 2002 New York Athletic Club Lehman
College, New York City, NY
Tournament 6 April 13-14, 2002 The Olympic Club
Miramonte High School, Orinda, CA
League Finals April 19-21, 2002 Pacific Zone Hartnell
College, Salinas, CA