COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., March 14. THE second semifinal weekend of the 2003 Premier League is slated for play at two venues in California this weekend (March 14-16), with one tournament being hosted at Pomona-Pitzer College in Claremont and the other at the Burlingame Aquatic Center in Burlingame.
The U.S. brand of elite domestic men’s water polo, the Premier League, opened the door on its fourth season on Valentine’s Day weekend with dozens of great games on both coasts. The league features nearly all of the U.S. National Team players, plus the nation’s best collegiate, prep, and Masters level athletes competing on 12 teams for a berth in the Premier League finals, which run May 2-4 in Southern California.
But the ultimate long-term goal of the league 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.
“Without this league, it is impossible for the U.S. to prepare for, and be competitive in, international play,” said U.S. men’s head coach Ratko Rudic. “We need to continue to develop this type of league system in order to arrive on the same level with the European teams.”
The league race could amount to be a tight one if the opening weekend of competition is any indicator. A Tony Azevedo-led (Long Beach, CA/Stanford) San Francisco Bay Area National Team went undefeated in its first five games, as did long-time powerhouse New York Athletic Club. San Francisco held the edge in goals scored (60-46) over NYAC, but NYAC only allowed 28 goals to San Francisco’s 40 allowed.
Another of water polo’s storied teams, the Olympic Club, went 4-1 in the first semifinal tournament, holding the field’s largest goal differential at +36. Former U.S. Olympic coach Rich Corso’s new club, Los Angeles Water Polo, also went 4-1.
Azevedo leads the league in scoring with 19 goals, but UC Irvine product Dreason Barry is close behind with 17 for the Southern Pacific National Team. Team USA goalkeeper Merrill Moses (Rancho Palos Verdes, CA/Pepperdine) leads the saves category with 62, just over a dozen ahead of U.S. teammate Genai Kerr (Imperial Beach, CA/UC Irvine), who has hauled down 48 for Newport.
Play begins on Friday (March 14) and continues through Sunday afternoon (March 16).