IRVINE — Newport Harbor High senior Curtis Fink has never been known for backing down from a physical game of water polo.
On Saturday night at Northwood High, Fink and Sailors teammate Dan Stevens got a chance to show their skills against not high school kids, but the Argentina men's national team.
Fink and Stevens were part of a Southern California all-star team put together and coached by Orange Lutheran Coach Steve Carrera. He was joined on the bench by his brother Ed, who is the former Vanguard University coach, and former Pepperdine coach Jack Kocur. The team also included Jon and James Walters of Mater Dei, who are Newport Beach residents.
Fink held his own in the physical contest, scoring a goal and drawing five exclusions. And, though Argentina rallied in the second half for an 8-5 victory in the exhibition, it was clear the high school kids got a lot out of the game.
"It's always great to experience something new, play against a different style of water polo," said the Princeton-bound Fink. "It's always great to play against different countries and compare their style of play to yours, not really to see which one's better but just see how they match up together."
Earlier at Northwood, the U.S. men's senior national team defeated Argentina, 14-8, in another scrimmage. Team USA featured former UC Irvine standouts Ryan Bailey, Jeff Powers, Griffin Lerman and Greg Enloe.
Both senior national teams used it as a warmup for the four-team UANA Qualification Tournament, which begins Wednesday in Calgary. Both teams are looking to finish top-two in Canada to qualify for the FINA World Championships this summer in Barcelona, Spain.
For the high school team, playing Argentina was fun. Fink drew two straight exclusions late in the second quarter, though the Southern California team was unable to convert the six-on-four chance. The SoCal squad went just one for 10 on the power play; Argentina was four for 12.
The Harvard-bound Stevens also made a standout defensive play when he sped back to stop Argentina's Franco Demarchi on the counterattack, earning the kickout but saving the goal. Mater Dei goalie McQuin Baron (17 saves) blocked the ensuing penalty shot by Argentina team captain Ivan Carabantes.
"It's not every day you get another country's national team coming in to play against high-schoolers," Stevens said. "I was really excited at the chance. It was different, it was difficult to adjust to the playing style, but I think it was a great experience for all of us that were able to play. It's a much different experience than high school or club, that's for sure."
Argentina rallied from a 5-3 halftime deficit. Demarchi and Ramiro Gil scored two goals each.
"They definitely switched things up defensively," Stevens said. "They went into a much more physical press, and it was difficult for us to get the ball into two meters."
Jon Walters, Chancellor Ramirez (Loyola), Jackson Kimbell (Long Beach Wilson) and Kent Inoue (Mater Dei) also scored for the high school team. Walters was issued a game misconduct in the third quarter.
The U.S. men's senior national team used balanced scoring to beat Argentina in the opener. Jesse Smith scored a team-high three goals for Team USA.
Enloe and Powers each scored twice for the Americans, and Bailey and Lerman scored once each. Bailey, a four-time Olympian who also is an assistant boys' coach at Corona del Mar High, is the team captain. He is one of four members of the team who were on last summer's London Olympic team, the others being Powers, Smith and goalkeeper Chay Lapin.
The men's team must go to the UANA qualifier due to its eighth-place finish in London.