Six U.S. Water Polo Olympians Head for European Pro Clubs

LOS ALAMITOS, Calif., September 16. THREE men and three women who competed on the U.S. squads in Athens won’t have too long a break from the pool. Now they are off to Europe to compete professionally for club teams in Russia, Italy and Greece, according to reports from US Water Polo.

Two-time Olympic center Ryan Bailey (Long Beach, CA/UC Irvine/Newport WPF) will head the list of men heading overseas to compete professionally. Bailey, who became the first male to compete in the final four of a European Championships with Jug Dubrovnik of Croatia in 2002, will lace up his cap this season for Club Dynamo in Moscow, Russia. He will be joined by U.S. teammate Adam Wright (Seal Beach, CA/UCLA/New York AC), a sure-handed set-up man who is coming off of his first Olympic Games. The always-versatile Jeff Powers (San Luis Obispo, CA/UC Irvine/Newport WPF) will make his pro debut for Vouliagmeni in Greece, just south of Athens.

Playing professionally is one of the best things a player can do for himself, according to men’s coach Ratko Rudic.

“This is the best way for our players to stay strong and to improve,” said Rudic, who signed on to coach Team USA through the Beijing Olympics in 2008. “We don’t have anything here like they do in Europe yet so for them to play more at the highest level is necessary.”

For the women, a trio of two-time Olympians will earn their daily bread playing for professional teams in Europe, all three for different teams. Brenda Villa (Commerce, CA/Stanford/Commerce WP), one of the game’s most accomplished players, will be leaving U.S. soil on October 7 for Italy, where she will play professional ball for Club Orrizante in Catania. Villa’s teammates will include some of her biggest rivals in the sport, including Italian National Teamers Tanya di Mario, Silvia Bosurgi, Giusy Malato and Francesca Conti. Also joining the pro ranks for the first time will be Ericka Lorenz (San Diego, CA/Cal Berkeley), one of Team USA’s go-to players on the 6-on-5 and Heather Petri (Orinda, CA/Cal Berkeley), part of the backbone of her squad’s defense. Lorenz will play for Club Plebiscito Padova in Padua, Italy and Petri will suit up for Rari Nantes Florentina in Florence, Italy.

The women continue a trend set by Heather Moody (Green River, WY/San Diego State/New York AC) who became the first female to play professionally when she signed a contract with Vouliagmeni in 2001.

“Competitively, the closest thing we have to professional leagues in Europe is our NCAA tournament,” said U.S. women’s coach Guy Baker.

All six players will be leaving within the month for their seasons, which begin this fall.