JUNIOR WORLD WATER POLO CHAMPIONSHIPS : U.S. Wins Fifth Place, but Is Haunted by Missed Chance
The U.S. junior water polo team defeated Czechoslovakia, 8-6, in the fifth-place game of the Junior World Championships Saturday at Newport Harbor High School, but the team still couldn’t erase the memory of a missed goal.
“We missed it by one goal,” U.S. junior Coach Ricardo Azevedo said.
“One goal short,” two-meter defender Gavin Arroyo said.
The Americans were haunted by the memory of Wednesday night’s game against Spain. With the score tied, 10-10, several U.S. shots hit the crossbar and went straight down without crossing the line. Had the United States won that game, which ended in a tie, it would have advanced to the medal round.
Saturday, Chris Oeding and Tony Barnes each scored twice in building an 8-2 U.S. lead midway through the final quarter to win in seemingly easy fashion.
But Azevedo said it was not as easy as it looked.
“We just came out flat again. We’re still disappointed,” Azevedo said. “They played together for a year and half for this, and we missed it by one goal.”
The U.S. also started sluggishly against Czechoslovakia, squandering four scoring opportunities against goalie Radovan Lukac, who had eight saves.
The wake-up call came from Oeding with 38 seconds left in the first quarter. Oeding nailed the back of the goal with a shot from six meters to give the United States a 3-1 lead.
Barnes skipped a shot off the water 31 seconds into the second quarter to give the United States a 4-1 advantage and put the Americans in control.
Czechoslovakia didn’t start well, either. Julius Izdinsky scored with 1:54 left in the first quarter to tie the score, 1-1, but Czechoslovakia didn’t score again for 9 minutes 36 seconds. Finally, Pavol Dinzik scored on a counterattack but at that point the United States led, 6-2.
Much of that scoring lapse can be attributed to the Americans’ helping defense, and the fine play of goalie Larry Bercutt, who had nine saves. Arroyo never allowed the Czech two-meter men to establish a set position, and Czechoslovakia failed to score from the two-meter spot.
Arroyo also had double-team help from Bercutt and from Jose Santiago, a sophomore at USC and a former standout at Sunny Hills High School. Santiago also had four assists.
Czechoslovakia made a late run, scoring four goals in the final 3:12 to make the score 8-6. Karol Schmuck, who had the strongest throwing arm in the pool, scored two of those goals from beyond six meters in the final 2 minutes.
“We just weren’t really into it at the end and it showed,” Arroyo said. “We played well today, but I’m just sorry we didn’t win a medal.”
In Saturday’s medal round at Corona del Mar High School, Spain defeated Yugoslavia in double overtime, 12-11, and Cuba beat Hungary, 8-7. Spain faces Cuba in the gold-medal game at noon today, and Yugoslavia plays Hungary for the bronze at 10:30 a.m.
In consolation play, Bulgaria defeated Japan, 13-11, at Newport Harbor High School. At Heritage Park in Irvine, New Zealand and Canada tied, 8-8, Mexico and Puerto Rico tied, 9-9, Australia beat China, 13-10, and Italy beat Brazil, 11-9.
The U.S. senior national team will play the Hungarian national team again today after the medal-round games. The U.S. senior team lost to Hungary, 13-8, Saturday in an exhibition game.