"The Olympics are my only goal. I don't care about getting a job and the Olympics are way more important than school. If I could, I'd play water polo for the rest of my life. Everything else is pretty much second."
--UC Irvine senior Omar Amr
Wait. Before you start lamenting the case of another youth lured away from the important things in life by the dream of becoming a man who plays boy's games, take a closer look.
Omar Amr is a biological science major with a 3.6 grade-point average. He might be your doctor one day. But, boy, does he love water polo. In fact, he loves it so much it hurts.
Amr has rotator cuff problems in both shoulders. Fifteen-ibuprofen-a-day rotator cuff problems. His doctors--and there are a number of them--say surgery would help, but also might end his water polo career. So Amr endures.
"It started out only hurting when I made certain motions," he said, "but then it got worse and worse and worse and worse and now, it just aches all the time."
Does all that over-the-counter pain medication provide any relief?
"Well, it's better than nothing I guess," he says, forcing a smile.
Obviously, Amr can play with pain. Last year, he scored 25 points and was an honorable mention All-American. In six games this season, he's second on the team in scoring with 10 points.
"He's the fastest player on the team and does a lot of counter-attack stuff with that speed," Coach Ted Newland said. "And he's our best one-on-one defender.
"But his shoulders are a problem. I re-habbed him for three months last year. It helped for a little while, but you start playing again and it comes right back."
Amr's winter-time avocation doesn't help much. He competes for the Anteater swim team.
"It would probably be smarter to rest my shoulders, but I want to be faster for the polo season," he said.
It always seems to come back to the yellow ball and the turquoise pool.
And if you think his parents will be upset when they read the italicized quote above, can you imagine their dismay when he announced he was giving up a full scholarship to swim at Fresno State so he could play water polo at Irvine for the fun of it?
"I had earned an academic scholarship here," he said. "It wasn't as much, but my parents figured since this was a better school, they could swing the difference."
His swimming and water polo careers at Sunny Hills High were decidedly unspectacular until his senior swim season when his personal-best times "started dropping like crazy."
"I had been pretty bad all through high school, but I guess I physically matured a little late," he said. "As I got faster, I got better at water polo, too, but I was still weak. I weighed maybe 150 pounds.
"I started playing for a club team and it was just so much more fun than swimming. I saw Newland at a college tourney and after UCI's game, I walked up and said, 'Newland, I'm going to play for you.'
"He looked at me, laughed and said, 'Whatever.' "
Their relationship is a bit tighter now.
Now, Newland says of Amr, "He's put it all together in a big pile. He's so disciplined that whatever this kid does, he does very, very well."
Now, Amr says of Newland, "He's like a second dad to me. He's turned me from nothing into something."
Final two? Newland figures the Anteaters, 4-2 this year, should end up among the top five in the nation. But nothing short of top two will be good enough to put them into contention for a fourth NCAA title.
The championship tournament, which used to include eight teams, has been pared to four by the NCAA. Automatic berths go to the Eastern Water Polo Assn., the Western Water Polo Assn. and the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with one at-large spot. That means the MPSF--which includes Irvine, Cal, Stanford, USC and UCLA, to name a few--will only have two teams in the tournament.
Last year, MPSF teams finished Nos. 1-8 in the final NCAA rankings.
"I don't know why they can't have regionals like they do with volleyball," Newland said. "This means that the conference tournament will be the really big one and the first two games of the NCAA tournament are going to be very easy.
"There will be two Mountain Pacific teams in the finals, that's certain."
Name that defense: Women's soccer Coach Marine Cano has designed an ever-changing series of defensive strategies he calls "systems," intended to confuse opponents.
"We have three primary defenses and we run them in stages," he said. "For instance, we'll start with a high-pressure, full-field defense. Whatever game plan the other coach has, we hope to completely disrupt it right away.
"Then, after 15 minutes, when they kind of figure out what we're doing, we drop back to low pressure and rest. Then we'll slip into a basic, medium-pressure, three-quarter defense.
"Each one has a corresponding offense. I'm not saying it works every time, but it's worked pretty well for us."
The Anteaters, who have gone into overtime in each of their last three games, are undefeated with a 3-0-2 record.
The men's soccer team got its first victory last week, with a little help. Junior midfielder Patrick Stark scored the game's only goal when his corner kick was deflected into the net by Cal Poly Pomona goalkeeper Dennis Cope. The Anteaters also beat Cal State Dominguez Hills, 1-0, in overtime and are 2-3 on the year. . . . Senior middle blocker Popi Edwards became Irvine's all-time kill leader Friday night during a 3-1 loss to Hawaii. She has 1,296 and counting. . . . The golf team begins its four-tournament fall schedule Friday and Saturday in the William H. Tucker Intercollegiate Tournament on the University of New Mexico's The Championship Course. The Anteaters are led by Kevin Yamauchi, who finished 24th in the NCAA West Regional last May on the same course.