Huntington Beach native Alex Wolf stands tall for U.S. men’s water polo
U.S. Olympic men’s water polo coach Dejan Udovicic remembers the first time he met Alex Wolf.
Udovicic, who has been the Team USA coach since 2013, went to the CIF Southern Section Division 1 finals the following year at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center.
There he saw Wolf, who as a senior that year had helped the Huntington Beach High School boys’ water polo team win its first league title since 1983 and make its first CIF Division 1 semifinals appearance since 1958.
At 6-foot-7, Wolf was hard to miss. Udovicic asked him if he was part of the USA Water Polo Olympic Development Program.
“He said, ‘No, I’m playing volleyball at the same time as water polo,’” Udovicic recently recalled. “I recommended that he join the ODP program, and he joined the next summer.”
Just six years later, the Olympic Development Program has produced an Olympian.
Wolf is one of two goalkeepers for Team USA, which opens its gold-medal quest in Tokyo against host Japan. The match is scheduled for 10 p.m. Saturday night Pacific time (2 p.m. Sunday local time). It will be broadcast on CNBC.
Volleyball wasn’t just some side thing for Wolf at Huntington Beach High. In his two years on the Oilers varsity team, Huntington Beach won two of its three straight Division 1 titles.
The middle blocker helped contribute to a national record winning streak that reached 121 matches after he graduated, before it was finally ended by Newport Harbor in 2016.
By then, Wolf was fully focused on water polo. He helped UCLA win a national championship in 2017 and was a two-time All-American before graduating in 2019. Also, in 2017, he made his debut on the U.S. national team roster.
The Olympic cycle, which was extended a year after the Games were postponed last year due to the coronavirus, was anticlimactic near the end for Wolf.
He and Drew Holland were the only two goalkeepers on the roster, and he knew Team USA would be taking two goalkeepers to Japan.
“Hearing the official announcement was just a big relief, a weight off the shoulders,” Wolf said.
“It was something that we didn’t need to stress about, but it’s hard not to, until it’s official. Of course, it was a dream come true, but the job’s not done yet. It’s a stepping stone to the actual competition.”
Wolf added that he can’t wait to compete at his first Olympics and face the best competition in the world. He competed for the Hydraikos club team in Greece recently, adding that he was overseas for about five months.
“Because of bureaucratic rules stuff, I only got to play in the playoffs,” he said. “I ended up playing four games, but it was good to be able to train for that time, instead of just sitting at home by myself.”
Wolf stands out because of his height and a wingspan, both attributes very beneficial for a goalie to have.
But Udovicic said that Wolf is also valuable for Team USA because of his mental toughness and winning mentality.
A Bay Area native who played at Stanford, Holland earned top goalkeeper honors at the FINA World League Super Final last month in Georgia. But Wolf also had some solid outings as Team USA claimed the silver medal.
Team USA, which finished 10th at the 2016 Games, might need both of them playing well to make a deep run this year.
“Of course, there’s that ‘want to be the guy getting more minutes’ rivalry, but it’s always good-natured,” Wolf said. “There’s never any malice. Him doing well motivates me to do better, and I’m sure me doing well motivates him to do better.”
Wolf is confident of both his own abilities and his team’s chances. He said the best-case scenario for Team USA, in his opinion, is about a three-goal victory in the gold medal match.
“All of the top teams right now are very, very close,” Wolf said. “We have a lot of weapons on this team. When we’re cohesive, we’re really unstoppable against anybody. The challenge is doing that consistently every game.”
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