Lynn receives welcome

NEWPORT BEACH — Robert Lynn said it felt good to be back home in Southern California after the London Olympics.

Lynn was an assistant coach on the U.S. Olympic men's water polo team that finished eighth in London. He said he got funny text messages from friends and family watching on television, telling him not to be so angry during the contests.

But Lynn felt less comfortable about having a microphone in his hand, he joked at the Newport Beach Aquatics Summer Soiree on Saturday night at the Newport Aquatic Center.

"I'll tell you, I was the only kid to run away from school every time I had to do an oral report," he told a laughing crowd of a couple hundred people.

The soiree was a "Welcome home" party for Lynn, who is the Newport Beach Aquatics club head coach and technical director, as well as the head boys' water polo and swim coach at Newport Harbor High.

Lynn said he had a great time in London. He sent some of his experiences back home, using Skype with his young daughter while walking through the Olympic Village.

"It was fantastic," he said. "London did a great job of preparing the Olympics, I thought. All the venues were really close together and everyone spoke English, so it was easier to get along. It was very friendly. As we're training in water polo, in our sport, we go to many countries that aren't really friendly with the United States. We're always very secluded ... [but] this was a treat.

"The Olympic Village was incredible. It's always fascinating when you have 30,000 of the best athletes living together ... When you're in the middle of it, it's really unbelievable. It's fascinating to see [Michael] Phelps walk through and to see Usain Bolt, and then here comes the Dream Team."

The eighth-place finish was not the dream finish for the United States, which won silver in Beijing. Lynn, a former All-American at USC and himself a longtime national team member who played in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, could not be too disappointed. He said he told the players as much.

"It's not just about this final result," Lynn said of the finish, which included losses in Team USA's last five games. "This team has been together for 15 years. They were the junior national team, and they went through all the maturity and everything. Their love for the sport is the best example for the United States kids. How many players do you know that play in water polo at a serious level, that will dedicate 10 or more years of their life to go to Europe and try to make a living and represent the United States? Maybe sometimes it's not the best thing [to play] here in the United States, because they don't have a professional outlet.

"They have a tough road ahead of them. It's a huge disadvantage ... They still go down as silver medalists in my book. What happened [in London] was just timing, and it was not ours."

A couple of higher finishes at the recent water polo Junior Olympics excited Lynn, who has led the high school and club programs since he was hired in May, 2011. The Newport Beach 18-and-under boys finished third in the platinum division. The 14-and-under boys won gold in the gold division.

Lynn said his long-term goal is to make Newport Beach Aquatics, which encompasses both water polo and swim club programs, the best program in the country. Recently the program has instated a morning swim program, coached by Jim Dietrich. Lynn said the program has been very successful.

Jamie Fowler, who founded the Newport Beach Water Polo Club just before Lynn was hired at Newport Harbor, would agree that things are going well. Fowler was an All-American swimmer at USC, where his son Ryan, a 2012 Newport Harbor graduate, plans to play water polo.

"I think [the 18-and-under boys' finish] was the best finish that Newport Harbor has had in 20 years, 30 years," Fowler said. "You look back and it has been a long time. That was when [Lynn] wasn't standing on the pool deck for the last three months, but it's something that he has put in place during the prior 12. It's the staff that he has, and the system he has created, and I think that speaks volumes for the program."

The soiree itself appeared to be a success. Newport Beach Water Polo Club chairman John Dobrott, who was a Newport Harbor and UC Santa Barbara aquatics standout in the 1970s, introduced Lynn before his speech. There was a silent auction, featuring items like water polo balls autographed by the whole Olympic team. Later in the evening, Polynesian dancers came out and performed, before calling up the Newport Beach Aquatics coaches and teaching them some moves.

Lynn played along, but it's now back to business for him. The high school season is starting and Newport Harbor is ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 preseason poll. The Sailors open their season at home against Foothill, ranked No. 3 in the Division 2, on Sept. 7.

"I think there's better cohesiveness of the team this year," Lynn said. "Everyone is really working together well and they're maturing. The kids are eager to work ... I asked them to give me eight weeks of their life. Let's do it like it's a dojo, and every match is a championship game. It's not going to be easy, of course, at all.

"Beating [two-time defending Division 1 champion] Mater Dei is still going to be a miracle for many teams. They're a very strong team and they have a very good program. It's not that we're not going to go after them. We're going to go after them; we're going to go after every team. We have to develop that every single day, that work ethic and that championship drive. And these guys are kids, they have a life. We have to watch them in every way, and guide them on choices they make outside the pool as well. I think we've got a good bunch of guys that are starting to work together."

Twitter: @mjszabo

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