By Dwight Chapin
PALO ALTO, Calif., July 4. JUST a few weeks ago, Brenda Villa, Ellen Estes and Margie Dingeldein of
Stanford were knocking heads (and bodies) with Robin Beauregard, Thalia Munro and Amber Stachowski of UCLA in the NCAA women's water-polo championship match, which was won by the Cardinal.
Now, just like that, the six players are teammates, wrapped in American red, white and blue.
Starting today, they'll be part of the U.S. women's team in the four-day Holiday Cup at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center, competing against Brazil, Canada
and Japan in the nation's largest annual domestic tournament.
The Holiday Cup usually is held over the July 4 holiday weekend in Southern California, but has been moved to the Bay Area this year. "Our goal has been
to do stuff outside the usual areas," said U.S. coach Guy Baker, who guided his squad to a silver medal in the Sydney Olympics in 2000. "We want to increase
our exposure in every possible way and give lots of different crowds around the country a chance to see this level of women's water polo."
Australia won the first two Holiday Cups, but the U.S. has taken the last two and will be favored to make it three in a row. But Canada, which is anchored by southpaw scorer Cora Campbell, defeated the U.S. in the bronze medal game at the 2001 World Championships. Brazil, the third-ranked team in the Americas, has a hot scorer in Camila Pedrosa and a tough goalkeeper in Claudia Graner, and Japan is led by emerging star Ako
The U.S. team, beginning preparations for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, is getting younger, but still has a strong core of past Olympians and a distinct local flavor with the three Stanford stars and Ericka Lorenz and Heather Petri of Cal.
"I like our balance," Baker said. "Right now, we have nine players from our 2000 Olympic team and five newcomers, and that's pretty much the group we'll be
looking at for Athens. It's a nice mix of returning players and younger players who should be really good in a couple of years.
"I started putting together the team in 1998, two years out from the Sydney Olympics, and we're a lot further along now than we were then."
— WHAT: Holiday Cup women's water-polo tournament
— WHO: National teams of the United States, Canada, Brazil, Japan
— WHERE: Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center
— WHEN: Thursday — Japan vs. Brazil, 7 p.m.; U.S. vs. Canada, 8 p.m.
Friday — Japan vs. Canada, 7 p.m.; U.S. vs. Brazil, 8 p.m.
Saturday — Canada vs. Brazil, 7 p.m.; U.S. vs. Japan, 8 p.m.
Sunday — third-place match, 6 p.m.;
championship match, 7 p.m.