July 21, 2003
BARCELONA, SPAIN - The U.S. men's water polo team earned itself a first-place finish in Group B at the 2003 FINA World Championships at Club Natacio Barcelona in Spain today (July 18) with a convincing 13-7 win over Australia. The U.S. will have three days off from competition before facing the second place finisher in Group C or the third place team from Group D. A win there would propel the U.S. into the medal round on July 26. Euro champ Serbia and Montenegro finished second.
The U.S. opened the scoring at 4:49 of the first quarter when captain Wolf Wigo (New York, NY/Stanford/New York Athletic Club/Ethnikos Piraeus) delivered a picture-perfect pass to Ryan Bailey (Long Beach, CA/UC Irvine/Newport Water Polo/JUG Dubrovnik) in the hole for a skip goal. Aleksandr Osadcuk hit on an extra-man opportunity on the next possession to tie the score at 1-1, but a rocket from seven meters out by driver Tony Azevedo (Long Beach, CA/Stanford/Long Beach Shore) reclaimed the lead for the U.S. at 2-1. Trent Franklin buried a nearside skip shot past USA goalkeeper Brandon Brooks (Honolulu, HI/UCLA) on the next trip down, but the U.S. answered again, this time on a blind backhand lob by Adam Wright (Seal Beach, CA/UCLA/New York Athletic Club) from three meters out.
In the second quarter, Australia managed a steal on defense and found a streaking Nathan Thomas on a breakaway. U.S. driver Dan Klatt (Fresno, CA/UC Irvine/Newport Water Polo) caught Thomas at what appeared to be five meters out, but was called for a four-meter penalty. Thomas Whalan converted the ensuing throw, tying the score at 3-3. Wigo, a two-time Olympian, broke the deadlock at the 1:43 mark, coming off the bench to net a player-up goal from the point. With 40 ticks left on the clock, holeman Jeff Powers (San Luis Obispo, CA/UC Irvine/Newport Water Polo) wrestled loose from a pair of defenders to score a turnaround from two-meters out, giving the U.S. a two-goal edge heading into the half.
Omar Amr (Fullerton, CA/UC Irvine/Newport Water Polo) blazed a goal past Aussie keeper James Stanton to start the third quarter, stretching the U.S. lead to three goals. A well-executed U.S. counterattack led to a goal by Chris Segesman (Santa Barbara, CA/Long Beach State/Los Angeles Water Polo) on the next U.S. possession to make it a 7-3 game. At 5:23 of the third, Azevedo connected on a counterattack goal of his own, pulling up from four meters out with a defender on his back. Away from the ball, Wigo and Australia's Whalan were whistled for game exclusions for unsportsmanlike conduct. Australia began to chip away later in the quarter, getting back-to-back 6-on-5 goals from Franklin and Ryan Moody to make it 8-5 with under three minutes to play in the quarter. Bailey out-wrestled a pair of opponents in the trenches to score his second goal of the day for the U.S. at 1:58, but Gavin Woods netted his first for Australia with 33 seconds left to make it 9-6.
Layne Beaubien (Coronado, CA/Stanford/Olympic Club/Halkida, Crete) scored from six meters straight out and Amr sank a shot moving away from the goal on the left side to make it an 11-6 U.S. lead early in the fourth. Segesman skipped home the 12th U.S. goal of the day on a counterattack with 3:09 to play in the game. Twenty-year-old driver Brett Ormsby (El Cajon, CA/UCLA/Bruin Water Polo) laced a shot, bar-in, off of the far post to give Team USA a 13-6 advantage at 2:07. Australia was unable to muster much more offense for the duration, getting one more goal from Dean Semmens to cap the scoring at 13-7.
"It all starts with defense," said U.S. driver Adam Wright. "The reason we had all those goals on the board was because we pressed them hard and played solid defense."
Beaubien agreed with Wright's assessment, saying that "our two-meter guards' goal was to shut down their centers because they don't really have strong shooters there, just guys who try to draw a lot of ejections."
"One of the greatest things about coaching this team is that they love to play and compete and you can see that both in our training and in our games," said U.S. head coach Ratko Rudic. "No team here is going to beat us very easily."
The U.S. will return to action on Tuesday (July 22) in a 4:45 p.m. game against an opponent to be determined.