By Eric Velazquez
Baker’s Dozen Putting the “Team” into Team USA:
A team full of stories…the touching return of Maureen O’Toole to the pool to pursue her Olympic dream…Brenda Villa’s hand in helping to put the City of Commerce on the international water polo map…the fact that Ericka Lorenz is representing the U.S. in the first ever women’s Olympics at the tender age of 19…Robin Beauregard’s dive into the Olympic spotlight after sitting out most of the summer with an injury…the list goes on and on. The Team USA women’s water polo team has gone from last-ditch qualifier to gold medal
contender in a summer’s time, which is almost overnight in the grand scheme of things. But what’s more, is that they’ve done it as a team.
All of the stories have melded together in the last week to send the U.S. into the medal round in the first ever women’s Olympic water polo tournament. And while there has been some standout individual performances, the U.S. has put together some outstanding team numbers, receiving contributions from all 13 players on its roster.
Entering tomorrow night’s semifinals, the U.S. leads the tournament team
categories in goals scored (36), extra man goals (20), exclusions drawn
(48), and extra man efficiency (56%). On the individual side of the coin,
the U.S. is painfully absent from the top spots in any category.
However, Baker’s Dozen has received its 36 goals from nine different
players. Russia and Australia have received goal production from 11 and 10
players, respectively. In goal, the U.S. alternating-goalkeeper scheme has
worked marvelously, with U.S. keepers Nicolle Payne and Bernie Orwig
stopping 60% of shots fired their way. Orwig has 26 saves to Payne’s 19,
while tournament leaders Josee Marsolais (Canada) and Karla Plugge
(Netherlands) have 36 each. However, Orwig has played 44 fewer minutes in
the net than Marsolais, and 70 minutes fewer than Plugge.
Offensively, the U.S. has five players with five or more goals. Brenda Villa
and Coralie Simmons lead the way with seven goals each, while teammates
Ericka Lorenz, Maureen O’Toole, and Robin Beauregard have five each.
Beauregard has only played in four of the team’s five games. Defensively,
Villa leads the team in steals with eight, Simmons is tops in assists with
four, and Julie Swail and Heather Moody have each posted a pair of field
The Team USA women are getting it from everywhere up and down the roster,
with two games to go. Coach Baker has often called Australia the most
balanced team in the tournament. If coach is looking for balance, he might
take a peek closer to home…
Sure, there’s some physicality involved with women’s water polo. It’s the
very nature of the sport. But while some contact is inevitable, coach Baker
spoke about the intricacies of the game in a press conference yesterday.
“There’s always going to be some physicality,” said Baker. “But there is
much more to this game than contact. There’s ball handling, passing,
shooting…and the conditioning necessary to excel in this sport. Our athletes
are the best conditioned athletes in these Olympic Games. No other athletes do what ours do…they’re the perfect combination of strength, skill, and grace. There’s so much beauty about the game, so much more than the physical stuff you see above the water…it’s a beautiful game, and that’s why we love it so much.”
Enough said, coach.
Well, technically it’s five down. But who’s counting?
The U.S. women’s water polo team actually had designated getting past the preliminary round as goal No. 1. The next goal? Bring home some hardware.
After getting through this week’s preliminary round with a record of 3-1-1, the U.S. will move on to face the Netherlands in tomorrow’s semifinals and, if all goes well, Australia in the gold medal game on Saturday (Sept. 23).
So how has the U.S. fared against these two teams in recent history? Back in July, USA defeated both teams in the Holiday Cup in Los Alamitos, Calif., at the U.S. Water Polo National Aquatic Center. Coach Baker and company first knocked off the Netherlands, 11-9, then moved on to douse Australia, 8-7, en route to the tournament cup.
This week, the U.S. opened up Olympic play by defeating Holland, 6-4, but later lost to Australia, 7-6. Coach Baker’s thoughts?
“Holland has tremendous offensive weapons,” he said. “They also have great speed and size and are probably the most experienced team in this tournament.”
And the Aussies?
“Australia is probably the most balanced and talented team,” he said. “They have been the most consistent, and they are going to be a tough game for anyone.”
Time to Relax:
The U.S. women’s water polo team took the afternoon off after a light practice this afternoon (Sept. 21) in preparation for its game tomorrow with Holland.