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Chase Dodd helps U.S. men’s water polo team squeak past Italy

Chase Dodd takes a shot and scores during an exhibition game against Italy at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

At 19 years old, Chase Dodd is the youngest player currently on the U.S. men’s water polo senior national team roster.

But his lack of experience at the highest level has not meant a lack of opportunity for the Huntington Beach High graduate, an incoming sophomore at UCLA.

Dodd scored 30 total goals in the FINA Intercontinental Cup and FINA World Championships earlier this year for Team USA, and he was named the MVP of the gold medal match at the Intercontinental Cup.

On Tuesday night, he found himself in the starting lineup as the U.S. opened a three-match exhibition series against Italy at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center.

“I feel really good,” Dodd said. “Over time, you just get used to how they play and just build upon what you think. Having all of these practices with all of these high-caliber athletes, and being able to scrimmage Italy and all of these other teams, it’s really helped me a lot.”

USA Water Polo's Tyler Abramson is pressured by Italy's Giacomo Cannella during an exhibition game Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Dodd had a goal and two assists as the U.S. held on for a 13-12 victory over Italy before an estimated crowd of 1,200. The teams play again Friday night at Stanford University and Saturday at Santa Clara University.

Alex Bowen scored four goals to lead Team USA, while former Orange Lutheran High and Newport Beach Water Polo Club star Hannes Daube added three. Team captain Ben Hallock and Marko Vavic netted two goals each.

Dodd made his only shot of the contest, and also had a field block, a steal and one earned exclusion.

“I think my role on this team is just to wear down the players, possession after possession,” he said. “That’s one of the attributes about me. I’m not the biggest, I’m not the strongest, and I don’t have one of the hardest shots. But I can swim a guy up and down that pool. I have pretty good endurance, which helps me.”

USA Water Polo's Chase Dodd is pressured by Italy's Luca Damonte during Tuesday's exhibition game.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

While U.S. coach Dejan Udovicic is hesitant to heap praise on younger players, he said the Americans are happy to have Dodd on the squad.

“He’s reading the plays right and he’s a competitive player,” Udovicic said. “He gives us not just a little, he gives us a lot.”

Dodd’s goal was the final one of a first-half blitz that saw Team USA open up a 7-2 lead midway through the second quarter. The hosts still held a 7-3 halftime lead, partially due to the strong play of first-half goalkeeper Jack Turner, who made 11 saves.

Italy, the World Championships runner-up which was led by Francesco Di Fulvio and Giacomo Cannella with four goals each, stormed back. The visitors pulled with a goal four times in the fourth quarter, but could never tie the score.

USA Water Polo's Max Irving takes a shot under pressure from Italy's Andrea Mladossich during an exhibition game Tuesday.
USA Water Polo’s Max Irving takes a shot while under pressure from Italy’s Andrea Mladossich during an exhibition game at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Vavic’s power-play goal with 48 seconds left gave Team USA a 13-11 lead, before Italy’s Luca Damonte scored the match’s final goal with 31 seconds left.

Italy got the ball back with one second left, but Team USA goalie Drew Holland blocked a shot from near mid-tank.

“We were very concentrated in the first part of the game,” Udovicic said. “We ran what we wanted to run. Guys trusted each other, shared the ball in the right moment. That was good execution ... [but Italy] deserved to come back. They came in a different type of zone and we couldn’t react properly. We gave them some chances to counterattack.”

The U.S. was coming off a sixth-place finish at the World Championships in Hungary.

Young fans cheer for Team USA water polo during an exhibition game against Italy on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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