The 2012 London Olympics is less than a year away, and the U.S. Men’s National Water Polo team is training each day as if the Games were tomorrow. Team USA will play at Pepperdine University in an exhibition match against the Pepperdine men’s team Sat., Sept. 24, at 11:00 a.m. at Raleigh Runnels Memorial Pool.
Team USA returns 10 veterans from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, including two Pepperdine graduates, as they search for the country’s second-ever gold medal. The first? The 1904 Games in St. Louis, Mo.
U.S. coach Terry Schroeder, who is also a Pepperdine graduate, has been diligently preparing his team with workouts at California Lutheran University. He coached Team USA to the silver medal in the 2008 games, the best showing for the U.S. since 1988 in Seoul, South Korea.
Schroeder was a three-time All-American at Pepperdine and captained the men’s national water polo team in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. He also coached Pepperdine for 20 years. Under his leadership, the Waves had a record of 340-220 (.607), reached the NCAA Championships eight times and claimed the NCAA Championship in 1997.
Schroeder said he was excited about returning to his alma mater.
“It’s nice to go back to Pepperdine and spend some time there. It’s my home away from home,” Schroeder, who lives in Westlake Village, said. “We are excited to play and begin gearing up for the Pan American games.”
Team USA finished in sixth place at the recent 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai, China. In order to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, the Americans must either win the Pan American games or qualify through another tournament. The Pan American games will take place from Oct. 23 to 29 in Guadalajara, Mexico.
The exhibition match on Saturday will surely test the Waves as they are in the midst of their season, but Pepperdine Coach Jack Kocur welcomes the challenge that Team USA will present to his team.
“It’s definitely going to be a humbling experience,” said Kocur, a member of the 1997 Pepperdine national championship team under Schroeder. “We have high hopes for our program this season. It’s about playing against the highest level of competition. Our team is very excited about the match. It is an honorable thing for our guys.”
Leading the Waves against the powerful American team will be redshirt senior Andrew Milcovich and last year’s leading goal scorer for the Waves, junior Danny White.
“It’s actually really exciting,” Milcovich said. “It’s great to see what that level is like. It will be good to test ourselves. They are going to be great. These are guys that we look up to.”
White aspires to be one day on the U.S. National team.
“A lot of us would like to be Olympians. That is the pinnacle of our sport,” White said. “But our primary goal right now as a team is to win a national championship. It’s always in the back of our minds. This will be great competition to go up against.”
In addition to Schroeder, Team USA Olympians Merrill Moses (Class of 2000) and Jesse Smith (Class of 2005) will also be making a homecoming when they come back to Pepperdine.
Moses, a goalie, was named to the all-tournament team in the 2008 Olympics after his phenomenal performance throughout the tournament. He had 70 saves in the tournament.
“It’s really exciting to come back and play on campus,” Moses, the MVP of the 1997 NCAA Championships for Pepperdine, said. “It will be great to see how the program is doing and play against them. It’s going to be a good time. I hope there is good spectator support for the National team and also for Pepperdine, who is in full swing with their own season.”
Smith looks forward to being back at Pepperdine as well. “It will be fun to go back there,” he said. “Pepperdine was a special place for me.”
The United States, despite its size, is not considered a world power in water polo, and its silver medal finish at Beijing shocked the world. Moses and Smith anchored a defense that led the Americans to wins over China, Italy, Croatia, Germany and Serbia. Only a 14-10 setback to powerhouse Hungary cost Team USA the gold medal. “All of us are very patriotic and it’s an honor to play for our country,” Moses said. “When you wear the red, white and blue and hear the national anthem being played, you are not playing for just yourself or the team but for your country. It means a lot to all of us. We definitely want to do everything possible to bring home a gold medal for our country.”