A water polo weekend to remember

Some of the best water polo players in the world are coming to Newport Harbor High next weekend.

With the weeks dwindling until the London Olympics, the Newport Beach Water Polo club is working on making it into a Memorial Day weekend to remember.

The club is hosting a three-day, pre-Olympic water polo showcase at Newport Harbor starting Saturday. Three of the top men's national teams in the world — Team USA, Hungary and Croatia — will be participating.

Robert Lynn can't wait. Lynn, who became the Newport Harbor boys' water polo coach a year ago, is also the head coach and technical director of Newport Beach Water Polo.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, though, he will be on the Sailors' pool deck in his capacity as an assistant coach of the U.S. men's national team. Lynn doesn't have to do much to sell the showcase, which features three teams with gold-medal aspirations in London. In 2008, Hungary beat the United States in the gold-medal game. Croatia finished sixth in Beijing, but was third at last year's FINA World Championships, also in China.

"It's a chance to see some of the best players in the word, really going at it," Lynn said. "It's at the top level, at the highest level of performance that they're going to be able to see this. It's very rare in this country that anyone [can] see the high-level games, ever. It's an exciting moment for me, as a coach in that position, to tie the two [Newport Harbor and U.S. national team coach] together. Of course, it was my wish to have Newport hosting."

The men's national team features former Corona del Mar High and Cal standout John Mann, as well as former UC Irvine players Ryan Bailey, Jeff Powers and Tim Hutten. They are part of 17 current players on the roster, which will be pared to the final 13 when the Olympic roster is named in early June.

Team USA begins the showcase Saturday at 6 p.m. at Newport Harbor, with a game against Croatia. Immediately following the game, there will be a dinner with the national team at the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach.

At noon on May 27, the United States will play Hungary, and that game is scheduled to be televised by NBC Sports. The final game of the showcase will be on Memorial Day, when Hungary plays Croatia at 5 p.m.

Lynn, who was a 2000 Olympian and also assistant coach on the 2008 silver-medal winning team, understands the importance of such games.

"We're just trying to have something of integrity there, and really bring the patriotic approach to the weekend for Memorial Day," Lynn said. "I'm really excited about this. It's going to be great ... I love water polo, and I wish water polo could be professional in this country. This is what a professional game would look like if it was professional. We're trying to get a big crowd there, and a lot of excitement.

"It's things like that we need to do as we go to the Olympics, and even in the summers. We have to have more domestic opportunities for people to see [water polo], to appreciate it and put us back into the right perspective. This is an opportunity for everyone to see, and to go, 'Oh my God, I do want to play this sport! This is incredible!' "

Newport Beach Water Polo club members have been busy at work planning for the showcase. Amy Tafoya is the event coordinator, and she said the scope of the event will be quite large.

Tafoya said there will be local vendors for food and clothing. The mayor of Newport Beach, Nancy Gardner, also has been invited to give an official welcome Saturday. Lynn also has been trying to arrange youth water polo clinics at the pool prior to the games Sunday and Monday.

"The whole idea was to make it a festival feel," said Tafoya, whose children Brett (boys' 16-and-unders) and Claire (girls' 14-and-unders) play for Newport Beach Water Polo. "It's a big deal. The national team is heading off to the Olympics."

The U.S. team recently played in the FINA World League preliminaries at Foothill High, against Brazil and Canada. The showcase at Newport Harbor is one of the last chances to see Team USA stateside before it heads off to London, though further games against Croatia are scheduled for May 31 at UCLA and June 1 at Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in Pasadena.

Lynn said Team USA is still in a training phase. But, with final Olympic cuts looming, the games at Newport Harbor will be the last chance for some players to impress the national team coaches.

Bailey is vying to compete in his fourth Olympic Games, Powers his third and Hutten his second.

Lynn said Mann, who led Cal to the 2006 national title, has been battling former Foothill and USC standout J.W. Krumpholz for the backup center spot behind Bailey. Krumpholz was the youngest player for Team USA in Beijing.

"It's got to be what's right for the team," Lynn said. "Both guys are great guys."

For more information on the pre-Olympic water polo showcase at Newport Harbor, including tickets to games and the ENC event, visit http://www.olympicshowcasenewportbeach.com.


Twitter: @mjszabo

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