Pepperdine legend honored by USA Water Polo

Former Pepperdine and U.S. Olympic team water polo goalkeeper Merrill Moses was honored July 8 during the national team's exhibition against Croatia, and even saw some action in the contest. Photos Courtesy of Jonathan Moore/USA Water Polo

Merrill Moses was goalkeeper for the Waves national title squad, and for three U.S. Olympic teams

Merrill Moses had stepped away from water polo and was in the midst of a successful career in the mortgage industry when he got a phone call from his college coach, the Pepperdine Waves’ Terry Schroder, in 2006.

Moses won an NCAA national championship in 1997 with Schroder and seized several individual honors during his four years as the Waves’ goalkeeper. However, after college, Moses was the final cut from the U.S. men’s water polo team that competed in the 2004 Olympics, which led to him stepping out of the pool and into the world of loans and interest rates. Schroder, a member of the Team USA coaching staff, called Moses because he and other coaches felt the red, white, and blue squad needed a talented player defending the net in the 2008 Olympics.

“They thought I was the answer,” Moses recalled. “I went to my boss that day and said, ‘I know I am doing great here, but this has been a goal and dream of mine that I want to do.’” 

It took Moses over a year to get back to top-playing performance, but it paid off at the Olympics in Beijing. Moses tended goal for the ninth-ranked USA team, which concluded the Games with a silver medal in hand. The second-place Olympics finish propelled Moses to a stellar 15-year water polo career that included two more Olympic Games and playing as a professional in Europe.

The USA men’s national team honored Moses, 45, on July 8 during its 8-6 exhibition loss to Croatia at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut. Moses, now associate head coach of the Pepperdine’s men’s water polo team, jumped in a pool and played a short stint in the net at the beginning of the contest.

Moses hopped out of the water to a round of applause from fans. He was embraced by national team head coach Dejan Udovicic and then he spoke to the crowd. Moses thanked his friends, family, and USA Water Polo. 

A day before the match, he said being honored is great.

“I put a lot of time and effort into representing Team USA in three Olympics,” Moses said. “I appreciate them honoring me and acknowledging the hard work I put in. It is an amazing honor to represent Team USA in the Olympic Games.” 

The recognition event for Moses, known as one of the best goalies in the world, was supposed to happen in 2020, but it was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Moses was the starting goalkeeper for U.S. water polo teams at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. He helped Team USA capture three Pan American Games titles and two FINA World League silver medals. Moses played for professional teams in Croatia, Italy, and Spain and won domestic titles for the New York Athletic Club. 

Moses played football before becoming an All-CIF selection in water polo at Peninsula High School in Rolling Hills Estates. He first played the sport as a ninth-grader. The following season was the first time Moses was positioned at goal.

When he attended Pepperdine, he walked onto the water polo team. His first words to Schroeder were “How are you doing? I’m going to be your new starting goalkeeper,” Moses remembered. “He had no idea who I was.” 

USA Water Polo v Croatia 2023 MM Retirement 1528
The USA men’s national team honored former Pepperdine standout Merrill Moses (in gray jacket) on July 8 during its 8-6 exhibition loss to Croatia at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut. Photos Courtesy of Jonathan Moore/USA Water Polo

He said the coach replied with, “I like your confidence.” 

Moses became the team’s starting goalie. Pepperdine won the national championship his junior season. Moses was one of three MVPs for that NCAA Tournament. He was also the MPSF Goalkeeper of the Year. He graduated from Pepperdine in 1999 as a three-time All-American and the Waves all-time leader in saves with 818.

His success at Pepperdine, Moses said, made him dream about playing water polo on the world stage.

“That is when it became a reality that I could play on Team USA,” he said. 

Moses was cut from 2000 Olympic team and was the last person left off from the 2004 squad. He thought his dream was dead, so he began working in the mortgage industry. 

Moses said winning the silver medal in the 2008 Olympics was the biggest accomplishment of his water polo career.

“That ended a 20-year drought of the men’s team being on the podium,” he said. “That is pretty big. After getting cut, finishing my goal of making the Olympic team propelled my career for much longer.”

The same year Moses played in his second Olympics, Schroeder asked him to join his coaching staff at Pepperdine. He started as an assistant coach and was promoted to associate head coach in 2017.

Udovicic asked Moses to be the goalkeeper of the national team at the 2016 Olympics. 

Moses was inducted to the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame in 2021. He is a member of the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Jewish Sports Heritage Association Hall of Fame in 2018. The coach is set to be admitted to the International Jewish Hall of Fame in July 2025 as a member of the class of 2023.

USA Water Polo v Croatia 2023 MM Retirement 1545 1
Former Pepperdine and U.S. Olympic team water polo goalkeeper Merrill Moses is shown with his wife Laura and daughters Adrianna, Makenna, and Brooklyn during the national team’s exhibition game against Croatia. Photos Courtesy of Jonathan Moore/USA Water Polo