Eugene - For his first Olympics with USA Water Polo, men's
coach Dejan Udovicic is bringing along a group of 20-somethings long on
athletic ability and short on experience. Oh so short on experience.
What comes next is anyone's guess.
While Tony Azevedo and Merrill Moses highlight the 13-player
roster for Rio de Janeiro announced on Thursday, there are only four holdovers
from the United States' disappointing eighth-place finish in London. The
average age of the nine newcomers just makes the cut for happy hour at 21.1
"When the players stepping up, I heard so many times
repeating, first Olympics, first Olympics," said Udovicic, who coached
Serbia to a bronze medal in 2012. "Maybe it's scary, scary thought, scary
thing, but I'm proud of what they did. I'm proud of these guys, I'm proud to
stand in front of them."
There are signs the youthful team is coming together nicely.
The U.S., ranked sixth in the world, is coming off a second-place finish in the
FINA World League Super Final last month in China. It posted shootout victories
over Australia and Greece before losing 10-6 to Serbia in the final.
It was the first medal for the U.S. in a major FINA
competition since winning silver at the 2008 Olympics.
"I think it helped our confidence a lot. ... It was
good for us to get that game experience," said Bret Bonanni, an attacker
from Huntington Beach, California.
Also read: Sports court to rule on Russian athletes competing at Rio by July 21
Next up is an exhibition against Montenegro in Houston on
July 30 before the U.S. faces reigning Olympic champion Croatia in its Rio
opener on Aug. 6.
Azevedo is heading to his fifth Olympics, a record for USA
Water Polo. The 34-year-old captain was born in Rio and plays professionally
for Sesi in Sao Paulo.
"We've gotten better every month, it's exciting to
see," he said. "I think we're going to be a team that everyone's
afraid of. I know they're already afraid of us and be ready. In Rio, we're
going to be one of the best teams in the world and I'm really excited and proud
to play with these guys."
Azevedo made his Olympic debut in 2000 in Sydney. Thomas
Dunstan and Ben Hallock, two of Azevedo's teammates for Brazil, turned 3 that
It's the fourth Olympics for Jesse Smith and No. 3 for
Moses, who turns 39 on Aug. 13 and is the probable starter in goal. John Mann
is going back to the Olympics for the second time.
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