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USA Water Polo honors five new Hall of Fame inductees

USA Water Polo honors five new Hall of Fame inductees
Inductee Guy Baker tells a story about his water polo coaching career during the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame luncheon at Hotel Irvine on Friday. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Guy Baker spoke Friday about receiving a phone call from former longtime Newport Harbor High water polo coach Bill Barnett. At the time, in December 1991, Barnett was the U.S. men’s national team coach.

Barnett was inviting Baker to be an assistant coach on the 1992 Olympic team in Barcelona.

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“It was crazy,” Baker said. “It was my first year [coaching] at UCLA, and he asked if I wanted to do it. I had to talk to my wife at the time, make sure it was OK, but I just jumped for it. I think they started practicing in January. Literally three or four days later, I’m on the deck … Coach Barnett gave me a tremendously great opportunity. I was 30 years old at the time.”

Baker would go on to coach the women’s national team in three Olympics, winning silver in Sydney in 2000 and Beijing in 2008. Baker was one of five people honored by Huntington Beach-based USA Water Polo at its Hall of Fame induction luncheon Friday at Hotel Irvine.

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Four-time Olympians Brenda Villa and Heather Petri, both of whom played for Baker, also were inducted. So were Chris Humbert, a three-time Olympian who was unable to attend, as well as Scott Hinman posthumously. Hinman, who played a pivotal role in the early days of the U.S. women’s national team and was a longtime coach at Irvine High, passed away at age 61 on March 29, 2017.

Many of the members of the current U.S. men’s and women’s national teams also were in the house for the induction ceremony, along with about 30 Hall of Fame members.

Petri, who along with Villa won gold for the Team USA women in their final Olympics in 2012, did her best to make everyone feel welcome, no matter what age.

Before she gave her remarks, Petri, 39, invited all of the Hall of Fame members up to the front of the room. She then proceeded to give each of them a high-five.

Petri said that during her playing career with the national team, it was a must to give a high-five to her teammates before each game.

“I really wanted to carry that on [today],” she said. “I haven’t gotten to do it since London. That was my last game where I really checked in with all of my teammates. This is a new team I’m a part of, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

Villa, 38, is the most decorated athlete in the history of women’s water polo. The former Stanford star was named the Female Water Polo Player of the Decade for 2000-2009 by FINA Aquatics World Magazine, and is credited for helping to bridge the gap between the U.S. program’s early days and its current dominance.

She also defied the odds, as a 5-foot-4 player from Commerce who played on the boys’ high school team at Bell Gardens High.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better class to be inducted with,” Villa said. “I think that makes it extra special. It’s great to be able to get the whole water polo community here together, past, present and future celebrating our sport. It’s a great day today.

“We’ve had a lot of great success since London [in women's water polo, including Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016]. You could probably count the number of losses they’ve had on one hand, but I think it’s great to remember where we came from as a program. Guy was a mastermind, and [current coach] Adam [Krikorian] is doing a fabulous job now. As alumni, [Petri] and I couldn’t be happier.”

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