August 13, 2016 11:35:52 am
The future is now for the U.S. men’s water polo team. That’s about all the Americans can do with what’s left of their time at the Olympics.
The United States won silver in Beijing, but slipped to eighth in London and will fare even worse in Rio de Janeiro after losing 8-5 to Montenegro on Friday, eliminating any chance of making the quarterfinals. Every time the U.S. pushed for the advantage, Montenegro answered, and an unusual brutality call on Alex Roelse made life even more difficult for the Americans.
Hungary, Greece, Spain and defending champion Croatia also won on the fourth day of the competition, sharpening the picture for the next round. Greece handed Brazil its first loss with a 9-4 victory and moved into a tie with the host country for the Group A lead.
Serbia rallied for a 10-8 win over Australia in the final match, giving the world champions their first victory of the Olympics. A win Sunday against Japan, and Serbia is into the quarterfinals.
“Real, 100 percent relief. … We prove first to ourselves, then to everyone else that we are still a great team,” Serbia captain Zivko Gocic said.
All that’s left for the U.S. is one more preliminary game Sunday against Italy, which lost 10-7 to Croatia and is tied with the London gold medalists and Spain for the Group B lead with six points apiece. France and Japan also have been eliminated from quarterfinal contention.
U.S. coach Dejan Udovicic, who took over the program in May 2013, provided no indication that he would treat the finale any differently, but he could give more time to Thomas Dunstan and Ben Hallock to help with the growth process for the teenagers.
“We knew that every game would be tough for us before we come here,” Udovicic said. “We are the youngest in here. We are fighting like lions here, you know, and we will do the same last game.”
Hallock, a 6-foot-6 center, and Dunstan, a 6-4 attacker, just faced off in California’s top high school division last November, with Dunstan helping Mater Dei beat Hallock and Harvard-Westlake 9-8 for the state championship. Hallock got a good look in the second period against Montenegro, but was unable to convert a backhand try.
Next up for Hallock is Stanford in the fall, and Dunstan is committed to Southern California.
“I think it’s pretty impressive to have two athletes who can compete at this level at the age of 18,” said Harvard-Westlake coach Brian Flacks, who traveled to Rio to watch Hallock play. “Hopefully in 2020 in Japan it leads to a medal.”
While Hallock and Dunstan look like the future of U.S. water polo, it looks as if captain Tony Azevedo, goaltender Merrill Moses and defender Jesse Smith are on their way out. The 34-year-old Azevedo is playing in his fifth Olympics, a record for USA Water Polo, and it’s the fourth games for Smith, 33. Moses turns 39 on Saturday.
Azevedo failed to score against Montenegro, and Moses allowed a tiebreaking goal in the first on a shot he probably should have stopped.
“Today, the ball didn’t go in for me,” Azevedo said.
Montenegro rebounded from a 6-5 loss to Italy on Wednesday, clinching a spot in the next round. It can improve its positioning for the quarterfinals with a victory over Spain in their Group B finale.
Darko Brguljan scored two goals and Milos Scepanovic made 13 saves. Uros Cuckovic put the U.S. away with a man-up goal with 10 seconds remaining.
Scepanovic “was fantastic today,” Montenegro coach Vladimir Gojkovic said. “I hope so stay until the end of the championship.”
Montenegro had a 4-3 lead when Roelse received a brutality penalty early in the fourth, resulting in a four-minute exclusion and also shelving the defender for the matchup with Italy. U.S. assistant Jack Kocur also was thrown out and will not be able to coach in the finale.
Mladan Janovic then scored with the man advantage, giving Montenegro a 5-3 lead with 7:18 remaining. The Americans twice pulled within one goal down the stretch, but were never able to make up the difference.
“Nothing, not one thing went on out of the water, they called a brutality. It’s really amazing to me,” Azevedo said.
Also Friday, Gabor Kis scored five times to lead Hungary to a runaway 17-7 victory over Japan. Gonzalo Echenique Saglietti had three goals as Spain cruised to a 10-4 win against France.
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