2018 European Water Polo Championships: Italy Hands Hungary Worst Defeat

Italy and Serbia already secured the top spots of their respective groups and a place in the quarter-finals. The Italians downed Hungary 12-5, it’s the Magyars’ worst ever defeat in 92 years at the European Water Polo Championships. The evening session saw a turnout of 3,500 fans already and many more to come.

The two sides met 80 years ago for the first time at the Europeans, they played 25 times before that encounter, Italy won 6 matches, by one or two goals each. This time they earned a 7-goal win, a record not only in the common history of the two sides but also for the Hungarians for all the wrong reasons. Beforehand, their 7-12 defeat by the Serbs in the 2014 final was their worst loss ever.

The Italians began the match where they finished against the Germans two days ago whom they beat 14-1. They simply blew the Hungarians away in ten minutes, gaining a 0-6 lead. Back in April something similar happened in Rijeka when they led 7-2 in the Europa Cup prelims, there the Magyars climbed back by the end of the match to lose 10-5.

This time the encounter took a different dimension as the Hungarians caught a fine spell, came back to 7-4, had a chance to cut the deficit to two before halftime then created five more brilliant opportunities but some tremendous saves from Marco de Lungo and the posts denied them. Then Valentino Gallo pulled his team out of the hole, scored after 9:54 minutes of silence and that pushed the game back where it was before.

“It was a nice match. They are an excellent team. We started with the right approach and before we even recognized it we had a 6-0 lead at halftime. I’m sure it affected their confidence. Then we didn’t score for four and half minutes, we just weren’t playing the game right. At this point the head coach called for a time-out and told us that the game wasn’t over. From that moment it went on as how we started the game from the beginning. All in all, a good match for us. We now move onto the last match of the group phase,” Gallo said.

Having 4-8 on the scoreboard instead of 5-7 killed the Magyars’ momentum, they kept on wasting their chances (telling numbers: the shots on target was 14-24 to Italy) while Italy made the most of them, including a couple of easy counters. The next Hungarian goal came after another scoreless period of 15:51 minutes (they netted their first after 9:53min) and that was enough to set a negative record.

“We set up a game plan, talked through how we had to begin the game – then we did something totally different. Our approach wasn’t good, how we player our first two man-up was not understandable either, we have to take a deeper look why this mental lapse happened. Soon after that we started playing on the expected level, came back to the match, we had a series of great chances to cut back our deficit to two but missed all and once the difference started growing we tried to find to score in individual ways not as a team. We have to learn from this, this is not the end of the European Championships, we’ll move to a more challenging half of the draw but we need to go on. Just have to cut the errors both in offence and in defence in order to achieve better results,” Hungary coach Tamas Marcz said.

In the other matches title-holder Serbia found it a bit harder to beat the Russians as they might have expected, it stood 6-5 at halftime but three goals in 1:58 minutes early in the third did the damage and after 9-5 there was no way back for their rivals. The other favourites rolled on with ease, Montenegro and Croatia earned high scoring wins, Greece beat the Netherlands comfortably just as Romania did with Slovakia.

“We knew it was going to be tough physically as always whenever facing Russia. It’s a strong team that improves year after year. We played well in defense but failed to finish attacks with calm. That’s all normal at this phase of the tournament, there’s no need to rush things, victory is what counts. It may look easy but it wasn’t easy for our centre-backs to cope with their centre-forwards. Huge thanks to all supporters who came to cheer for us in this early stage of the Championships,” Serbia’s Stefan Mitrovic said.

Germany and Georgia staged the day’s fiercest battle which most probably decided the third qualifying spot in Group A. Georgia took the better start, led by two goals deep into the second, then a double in 26 seconds put the Germans back to even. Still, the underdog side was ahead in the fourth at 7-8. They missed a man-up at 8-8 and after an exchange of goals, with 1:55 to go, Julian Real somehow pushed the ball behind the line to give a 10-9 lead for Germany. Georgia had another man-up but Moritz Schenkel saved the Germans and sent them to the next round.

The closing game – after the duel of Hungary and Italy – produced another fine battle, some 3,500 fans enjoyed the warm evening and Spain’s hard-fought win over France.

European Water Polo Championships, Day 5

Men’s Round 2

Group A

Germany v Georgia 10-9

Hungary v Italy 5-12

Standings:

  1. Italy 6, 2. Hungary 3 (0), 3. Germany 3 (-12), 4. Georgia 0

Group B

Montenegro v Malta 17-5

Spain v France 7-4

Standings:

  1. Spain 6 (+20), 2. Montenegro 6 (+14), 3. France 0, 4. Malta 0

Group C

Greece v Netherlands 12-7

Croatia v Turkey 23-2

Standings:

  1. Greece 6 (+31), 2. Croatia 6 (+28), 3. Netherlands 0, 4. Turkey 0

Group D

Russia v Serbia 9-11

Romania v Slovakia 9-5

Standings:

  1. Serbia 6, 2. Russia 3 (+4), 3. Romania 3 (-2), 4. Slovakia 0

Fixtures, Day 6 – Women’s Round 4

14.00 Israel v Greece (A)

15.30 Germany v Turkey (B)

17.00 Italy v Croatia (A)

18.30 Netherlands v France (A)
20.30 Russia v Hungary (B)

22.00 Serbia v Spain (B)

Follow all games live and look for the detailed stats and play-by-play descriptions on www.len.eu

— The above press release was posted by Swimming World in conjunction with LEN. For press releases and advertising inquiries please contact Advertising@SwimmingWorld.com.

 

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[PSYCH SHEET] Elite Age Groupers Clash with College Veterans at 2018 Iowa City Sectionals

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Speedo Sectional Series is proudly sponsored by Speedo. Visit SpeedoUsa.com for more information on our sponsor.

The 2018 Speedo Summer Sectionals meet at Iowa City is shaping up to be an interesting battle between the top age group talent and the local college swimmers training over the summer in the midwest. Many swimmers from elite Division I schools – like the University of Wisconsin, University of Iowa and the University of Kentucky – are represented in the psych sheet.

A handful of these athletes are entered with seed times in certain events that narrowly miss the US National Meet qualifying standard. Given that the entry deadline for Nationals has already passed, we could very well see some of these college swimmers make a fully-rested push to establish themselves as viable competitors within the highest echelon of USA Swimming.

Despite the presence of elite college athletes in the psych sheet, many promising local age group talents have held their own in the ranks. Some of these age groupers are even heading into a few events seeded first, ahead of many Division I athletes.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE ENTIRE PSYCH SHEET

Here are a few of the age group stars who are topping the psych sheet:

Emma Lasecki

Green Bay, Wisconsin native Emma Lasecki is the top seed in the women’s 400m IM. Her seed time is from last year’s Summer Speedo Sectionals at the University of Minnesota, where she finished second to a current fourth year on the Missouri State University swim team. The rising high school junior is also seeded 2nd in both the women’s 200m IM and 200m Fly.

Perhaps this is finally the year where Lasecki takes the crown over the elite collegiate athletes she has been capable of challenging all throughout her high school career.

Maggie Graves

At just 14 years old, distance ace Maggie Graves is seeded first in the women’s 1500m Freestyle by almost ten seconds. Representing Barrington Swim Club in Illinois, the young swimmer is poised for a dominant swim, as her seed time is from a club meet one month ago, though there is no telling how rested she was.

If she is in fact rested for this meet, a US Nationals cut is realistically possible. Moreover, the meet record – held by her former club teammate Kirsten Jacobsen, who is now an All-American for the University of Arizona – isn’t out of the cards, either.

Bottom line: Graves is a force to be reckoned with, no matter how many years her competitors have on her.

Ben McDade

Indiana University commit Ben McDade is the top seed in the men’s 400m freestyle with an entry time of 3:58.82, the only swimmer seeded under the 4:00 barrier. The Wisconsin state champ is almost three seconds ahead of his closest competitor, rising Minnesota sophomore Cameron Kelley.

The men’s 400 free is actually only one of two events that have a non-collegiate athlete as the top seed on the men’s side. The only other event is the 200m fly, where Wisconsin commit Frank Niziolek holds the top spot.

McDade will look to dominate the 400, but he’ll have his work cut out for him in both the 800m and 200m freestyles, where he is seeded second and fifth respectively.

Sophie Sorenson

University of Kentucky commit Sophie Sorenson is the last age group swimmer to rank first in an event heading into the meet. Sorenson is the top seed in the women’s 200m back with a 2:16.11, narrowly ahead of her future Wildcat teammate Alexandra Nelson, who is seeded second with a 2:16.34.

The Kentucky women’s swim team is well known for their incredibly deep backstroke program, boasting three finalists at the 2018 NCAA Division I Championships in the 200y Backstroke, including Asia Seidt, the 6th fastest performer in history.

A 1-2 finish for the Wildcats will do nothing but further solidify their elite backstroke legacy, an outcome which seems entirely likely.

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RCP Tiburon Mile Open Water Swim One Month Away

It’s that time of year again when multitudes of spectators will be cheering on the hundreds of swimmers participating in the 17th RCP Tiburon Mile Open Water Swim!  This year’s race is set for SUNDAY, AUGUST 19TH at 9:00 A.M., and is a benefit for the Lifehouse Agency in San Rafael, CA.

If you’re interested in swimming with us, you can register in any 1 of the 4 Divisions of eligibility, AND save almost $50 if your registration is completed by August 4.  Awards are presented to top finishers in each division and a $2500 cash prize is awarded to the first-place overall male and female finishers!  Any swimmer that individually raises more than $1000 for our charity (The Lifehouse Agency) will have their entry fee refunded after verification and collection of the donations are received.  So, what are you waiting for? Dive in!

If you’d rather show your support through volunteering, there are plenty of fun and free ways to get involved!  All you have to do is visit our website and sign up for the position of your choice! We’ve got openings for t-shirt sales, food purveyors, baggage claim clerks, registration handlers, volunteer check-in, and more. If you like to be on the water, we’re especially looking for more volunteers with motorized boats and/or kayaking equipment and experience.  So grab your partner or gather your friends and join this one-of-a-kind event where you can volunteer year after year, and never do the same thing twice!  Plus, volunteers get a hip red hoodie and a free gourmet lunch after the race (while they last)!  So, you wanna make a splash? Jump in and volunteer!

Oh, and did we mention that there will be some pretty “big fish” in the race too?  No, we’re not talking about sharks — we’ve got an amazing line up of World Champion swimmers and Olympic Medalists from around the globe!  Here’s your chance to rub elbows (or should we say fins) with world class athletes like 2016 Olympic Open Water Gold Medalist, Ferry Weertman, and 500 & 1650 Freestyle American record holder, Zane Grothe!

Thank you so much for your continued support of the RCP Tiburon Mile Open Water Swim! Hope to see you all on race day — only one month to GO!

— The above press release was posted by Swimming World in conjunction with RCP Tiburon. For press releases and advertising inquiries please contact Advertising@SwimmingWorld.com.

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[PSYCH SHEET] Five Swimmers to Watch at the Santa Clarita Speedo Sectionals

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The 2018 Santa Clarita Speedo Sectionals splash into action tomorrow, July 19th, and run through Sunday, July 22nd. The meet will be hosted by Canyons Aquatic Club at the Santa Clarita Aquatics Center. Prelims begin at 9 a.m. Thursday – Saturday and 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, while finals will start at 5 p.m. Thursday – Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Click here to view the entire psych sheet. 

In anticipation of the weekend’s action, Swimming World has combed through the psych sheet and found five (of many) swimmers to watch this weekend.

1. Kenisha Liu – Brea Aquatics

Kenisha Liu has entered a variety of events throughout the weekend including the 100 and 200 free, 100 fly, 200 breast, and 400 IM. She is seeded first in all but the 200 free, where La Mirada’s Taylor Ault holds the top seed.

Liu has concluded two years at UCLA as a member of the swimming and diving team, where she frequently specializes in the 200 breast, 200 IM, and 100 free.

2. Alexei Sancov – Terrapins

18-year-old Alexei Sancov is set to have a busy weekend with a total of six individual events. Sancov sits as the top seed in the 100, 200, and 400 freestyles, and will also swim the 50 freestyle, 100 and 200 butterfly events.

Sancov has the potential to earn the gold medal from the 50 to the 400 freestyles, but will have to hold off teammate Andrei Minakov in both the 50 and 100 events.

3. Gordon Mason – Team Santa Monica

Gordon Mason of Team Santa Monica enters the meet this weekend seeded first in both the 800 and 1500 freestyles and holds the fourth place seed in the 400 freestyle. His seed times of 8:15.72 and 15:55.32 put him well ahead of the competition and in a good position to claim victory in both of the distance events, while the 400 is close enough that he should easily be within medal contention.

4. Kailyn Winter – Quicksilver Swim

15-year-old Kailyn Winter will be focusing on four individual events throughout the Santa Clarita Speedo Sectionals meet. Winter is slotted to swim the 50, 100, and 200 freestyles, as well as the 100 fly. Her highest seed is in the 50 free, where she enters as the first place seed with a time of 26.57.

She is seeded 8th (100 fly – 1:02.84), 14th (100 free – 58.85), and 103rd (200 free – 2:13.89 LB) for her remaining events.

5. Michael Xu – Bay Club Aquatics

Michael Xu, 17, may only be seeded for two individual events at this weekend’s meet, but he possesses a strong likelihood to collect gold medals in both. Xu will swim both the 100 and 200 breaststrokes, which he is seeded first and second in respectively. For the 200, Brea Aquatics’ Sean Ward sits just ahead of him with a first-place seed time of 2:19.46 over Xu’s 2:20.96.

Xu holds the first place seed for the 100 breast at a 1:04.17.

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Aquatic Sports Schedule Still Undecided for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Photo Courtesy: The Japan Times

The Tokyo 2020 organizing committees have been hard at work finalizing schedules for a total of 33 sports that will compete at the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but have not settled on a competition schedule for the swimming, diving, or artistic swimming events.

A report by Inside the Games explains that the delay in finalizing the schedule has stemmed from disagreements between broadcasters in the United States and Japan as to what time finals should occur. Television networks in the United States would prefer for finals to stream in the morning in Japan, which is a prime viewing time for American viewers, while Japanese broadcasters are insisting that the finals take place in the evening local time as swimming is one of the most popular sports in their home country.

Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori has admitted that there have been compromises made in scheduling each of the competitions and that International Olympic Committee (IOC) Chairman John Coates has been delegated to work with FINA and everyone involved to come to an agreement regarding the aquatics schedule.

Mori added,

“There are certain undecided points here and unresolved slots and the relevant parties will continue discussions so it can be finalized eventually. Further coordination is needed…We have to rack our brains and come up with better ideas.”

Despite the hiccups in the three aquatics program schedule, the remaining 30 sports have competition schedules set. The open water events are scheduled to take place on August 5th and 6th of 2020, while the water polo competition will begin on July 25th and host the gold medal matches on August 8th and 9th.

The Games are set to begin on July 24th and conclude on August 9th.

Read the full report from Inside the Games here. 

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Weird Equipment and How it Works

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Niki Urquidi, Swimming World College Intern

As the swimming world evolves, so does the training and racing equipment. While most – if not all – swimmers are familiar with the common fins, pull buoy and paddle routine, here is a list of a few pieces of equipment that may not be as commonly known but just as useful!

1. Band and Tube

Photo Courtesy: Niki Urquidi

These two odd pieces of equipment serve a similar purpose. Both are placed around the ankles of a swimmer to isolate the upper body. The difference is that the tire-like tube is inflated, thus holding up the swimmer’s legs and hips and making it a little easier to pull with than the band.

The tube varies from the use of a pull buoy in that it does not prevent the hips from over-rotating. As such, the tube helps to activate the swimmer’s glutes and core, thus strengthening and improving overall body-line and form. Swimming with a tube allows the swimmer to feel the correct hip position compared to how it feels to over rotate.

On the other hand, the band is a thick rubber band that holds the legs together in such a way that swimmers must use their core and hamstring strength to prevent their legs and hips from sinking in addition to keeping the hips from over rotating. Pulling with the band can simulate the added difficulty when they allow their legs to sink during a race, as their body position becomes less hydrodynamic.

Both of these ankle-restricters are extremely helpful to improve pulling and core strength. They are used by many college teams around the country, such as the University of Florida.

2. Dragsox and Parachute

Photo Courtesy: FINIS via Amazon

Resistance is key in building overall swim strength. Usually, this resistance is provided in the form of power towers or cords; however, the University of Miami subscribes to different resistance methods. They utilize parachutes and DragSox.

These socks are made of a mesh fabric with an adjustable elastic band at the top. Swimmers place the elastic around their ankle and let the mesh drape over their feet. With both socks on, kicking becomes more challenging, allowing the swimmer to work on building leg strength, ankle flexibility and kicking tempo. If kicking is not one’s strong suit, these socks will become your worst enemy.

The parachute is another great option to add resistance. A strap is belted around the swimmer’s waist with a small, cloth parachute extending from the end. Immediately after pushing off the wall, the swimmer can feel the parachute catching the water and resisting the body’s forward movement. It is a great tool to use for short sprints, as fatigue sets in quickly.

Resistance training is a great way to improve strength and stamina without compromising yardage or quantity. Simply adding one of these resistance tools – or even just adding a drag suit – to one’s swim wardrobe can drastically improve strength, power and speed.

For more information on DragSox and drills to use while wearing them, visit their website!

3. Snorkel Cap

Photo Courtesy: Niki Urquidi

Anyone who has used this small, plastic “cap of death” knows the added challenge it provides to any snorkel set. The cap is placed over the top of the snorkel to limit the amount of air a swimmer can breathe through the snorkel. It is useful for building lung strength and capacity; however, it should always be used under proper supervision and instruction.

Hypoxic training is important in swimming for many reasons and can have many benefits. It can help extend the fastest part of a swimmer’s race – the underwater kickout. Without adequate oxygen supply and lung functioning, a swimmer’s kickouts can be cut short, drastically reducing overall speed. Building lung strength helps to swim farther and faster underwater.

As for swimming speed and fatigue, not having enough oxygen or having weak lungs leads to increased heart rate, tighter muscles, and shallower breaths. Training one’s lungs and body to adjust to hypoxic conditions can result in  increased stamina and endurance; however, it should be monitored closely and individually to avoid danger. Click here for water safety tips regarding hypoxic training.

Note: Coaches and swimmers should take precautions to avoid shallow water blackouts when performing underwater drills. All training should be conducted by a certified and experienced coach. Coaches and swimmers who use these drills should do so at their own discretion.


There are many more interesting pieces of equipment that were not addressed in this article that are always worth checking out. Experimenting with equipment adds variety, and a little fun to every practice, as well as allows one to focus on specific elements of their stroke, and build strength in those areas individually!

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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Mark Cavendish ‘bitterly disappointed’ after missing time cut and being eliminated from Tour de France

Manxman finishes mountain stage far outside the time cut

Doug Ryder, the boss of the Dimension Data team, has said that Mark Cavendish is “gutted” and “bitterly disappointed” to have been eliminated from the Tour de France.

Cavendish, team-mate Mark Renshaw, and Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) all finished well outside the time limit on stage 11 of the Tour de France. The Manxman was the last rider to cross the line more than 30 minutes outside the time cut, which had been extended in recognition of the difficulty of the stage.

The captain of the South African team declined to speak to press at the finish but his team manager Ryder told Cycling Weekly that Cavendish had been extremely disappointed when he reached the team’s hotel, just a short ride away.

“He’s bitterly disappointed. Riders need their time and Cav is a super-experienced guy who has seen this movie before sadly,” Ryder said.

He added that although Cavendish’s best place on a stage of the Tour had been eighth on stage eight, and he scraped through the time cut yesterday with seconds to spare, the team and Cavendish had earlier been optimistic that he could make it through the mountain stages and challenge for wins later in the race.

>>> Five talking points from stage 11 of the Tour de France

“We were focusing on Friday as another opportunity he was very optimistic about that,” Ryder said. “Stage races are hard and after the rest day you never know how you’ll feel. He suffered yesterday on the first climb and then felt alright. Today he was on the rollers before the start, he was prepared for a big fight. Maybe the fight was just too big today… He’s gutted.”

Cavendish has had a torrid couple of years beset by illness and injury. Last year he had glandular fever for the first half of the season before crashing out of the Tour de France and breaking his collarbone. This season he crashed out of the Abu Dhabi Tour and Milan-San Remo.

“We are a team that believes in the dreams of individuals and Mark [Renshaw] and Mark [Cavendish] – but particularly Cav – have worked hard but the sport is brutal it’s tough,” Ryder continued. “Having not ridden a complete Grand Tour since 2015 it’s really hard. Especially with the incidents and illnesses it’s too hard to keep coming back, when you don’t have a full season.”


Watch: Tour de France stage 11 highlights


Ryder went on to praise his charge’s commitment this season, pointing out that Cavendish had missed out on being around his son Casper who was born in March because he was preparing for the Tour.

He said there was still a reason to believe they could be successful in the Tour. “We picked ourselves up last year. Then we lost Cav on stage four and we ended up winning a stage and were on the podium several times. We are an opportunistic team and we’ll take our chances, it wasn’t the plan but we’ll give it a full go.”

The prospect of sprinters being thrown out of the race had been a topic of conversation for teams since the route was announced as short mountain stages are always difficult for the fast men to ride within the time cut.

>>> Chris Froome hails Thomas’s ‘perfect’ attack as Team Sky take control of Tour de France

At the finish Renshaw, who will also be kicked out of the race for missing the time cut, was asked if he felt emotional at having to leave the Tour.

“No. That’s what the Tour de France wanted the stage to be like. I don’t know who else is out but they knew what was coming,” he said. “It’s too hard for the sprinters and too hard for me.

“On a short stage like that its every man for himself. I was with Dylan Groenwegen for a long time but I couldn’t follow on the second to last climb and that was it.”

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Adam Yates’s Tour de France hopes hang by a thread after suffering in the heat on stage 11

Mitchelton-Scott rider now nearly six minutes off the yellow jersey

Adam Yates‘s bid for the Tour de France took a hit on the hot roads to the La Rosière ski station, where he climbed to the finish at 4-42 back from stage winner Geraint Thomas.

The 25-year-old came into the race aiming for the Tour’s top spots after years of improving, encouraged by twin brother Simon’s ride in the Giro d’Italia this May, but now finds himself 16th overall, 5-51 behind the yellow jersey.

“We knew it would be an aggressive day,” Mitchelton-Scott sports director Matt White said after the stage.

“We put Mikel [Nieve] and Damien [Howson] in the break. We called Damien back from the break to be with Adam. He didn’t have the best of days there in the second group. He was a little bit isolated in the second climb.”

>>> Five talking points from stage 11 of the Tour de France

In 2016, Yates placed fourth overall behind winner Chris Froome and won the youth classification, but now faces an uphill battle if he is to come anywhere close to that result after he suffered from the heat on the race’s first summit finish.

“I haven’t spoken to Yatesey, but he went from being very good to exploding in a short period on that final climb,” White continued.

“He is not a fan of when they [Sky] really accelerate, so at first thought he was just riding his own tempo. Then he was asking for water – he was already inside the last 10 kilometres – so he was obviously affected by the heat.”


Watch: Tour de France 2018 stage 11 highlights


Yates faces another hot day in the mountains on Thursday with stage 12 crossing two hors-categorie climbs on the way to Alpe d’Huez.

“He can only recover as fast as he can recover. We have seen other guys in the last few days have bad days. It can catch up with you and the next day you can be back in the front group again. We just have to stay positive,” said White.

“It all depends on how much he loses tomorrow and if he is better or worse. We have to reset, recover and get through a tough day tomorrow and then we will have a much better idea of what we can chase after tomorrow’s stage.”

>>> Chris Froome hails Thomas’s ‘perfect’ attack as Team Sky take control of Tour de France

The Tour de France travels west before more mountain days in the Pyrenees and the final time trial stage. The Tour concludes in Paris on July 29.

“The GC guys have three days to relatively recover – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – before they hit it again next week,” White said.

“First thing first is to recover and see what we can do tomorrow and then we will have a much better idea of whether we give up on GC and chase stages or continue in GC mould and obviously it is going to be good for his development as well – he is only 25 – and whether we are chasing a top 10 or not. We will see what we are doing in 24 hours time.”

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On The Record with Kristin Rodriguez of USA Water Polo

U.S. Youth National Team Head Coach Kristin Rodriguez. Photo Courtesy: Peter Laurence / USA Water Polo

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

At last week’s UANA Pan American Junior Water Polo Championships, the U.S. junior girls’ squad had an unfamiliar experience: a humiliating loss to a bitter rival. After a lopsided 19-9 loss to an older, more experienced Canadian team—which went on to win the UANA Cup title—Swimming World spoke with Kristin Rodriguez, head coach for the U.S. Women’s Youth National Team.

USA Water Polo as well as at Foothill Club Water Polo in Southern California, was blunt about the challenges her group of young players faced in this tournament. She was also clear about maintaining a standard of excellence for an American women’s program that, since capturing gold at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, has been the world’s best. 

– Given the success of the U.S. Women’s Senior National Team and the need to develop potential Olympians, how hard is it to balance expectations?

The average age for the U.S. youth girls squad at UANA is 15.4. But that’s not the point. Going into that game and going into the tournament I wanted to be sure that the girls weren’t setting excuses for themselves. We are building on a legacy and have expectations.

Photo Courtesy: Peter Laurence / USA Water Polo

Bringing our top 19 and under team, with Aria Fischer, who has a gold medal [from the 2016 Olympics]; it includes Paige Hauschild [68 goals in her freshman year at USC] and a bunch of girls who have traveled several times [internationally].

For this [tournament]… yes, we’re young, and yes, winning was going to be a challenge [but] … [t]aking a loss makes winning so much more valuable during a career. If we brought our top 19U girls and they win every game by several goals, they would not gain much out of that experience. Having a physically and mentally tough game for these girls is something that is relatively new. They’re coming from a good high school team, a good club team, and to come together in a very short time frame and play against talented [opponents]… Canada is talented, Brazil is talented. Both teams present different styles of play.

Bringing together top talent, forcing them to play together and trust their teammate, playing with high intensity, playing within a system, and performing in front of a crowd where several countries are constantly cheering against you is something I don’t know they have ever experienced.

I don’t feel that we have taken the drive out of winning with the loss to Canada, I think that we have strongly fueled these girls to never want to lose to them again.

– Of course, as a coach, your goal first and foremost is to win.

Absolutely! Coming into this, you announce your roster the day before the tournament starts. You don’t necessarily know what country is bringing whom. We have three athletes that came from last year’s Pan Am [Games], and the group that we have are girls that we see [have] Olympic potential, from the Olympic Development Program (ODP).

I believe that all of the girls came with the intention to win too. The coaching staff was able to meet with every player and get some of their thoughts about the tournament and the games. Naturally they had the most to say about the Brazil and Canada games [both losses]—and all wish we could play them again.

Many tournaments on US soil have ways that allow you to play an opponent early and then potentially see them again in a semi-final game. This tournament was a huge eye opener in that you do not always get second chances. We need to be better prepared and perform from the start.

We’re not highlighting the fact that we’re young in terms of average age, and we don’t want to have that lingering as an excuse. We picked some very talented athletes, and I think that they now know how to dig a little deeper to be prideful and represent the letters across their chests.

– Given the size and scope of ODP, from year-to-year athletes and circumstances can change drastically for U.S. age group teams.

From last year’s Pan Am team, most of our roster have gone to a higher level, and looking at the rosters for Canada and Brazil—there are several familiar faces, so those girls have been playing together for a while. I don’t know what their practice schedule is like, but they had at least one international tournament together from last year, and that makes a difference.

What U.S. polo fans NEVER want to see on our soil. Photo Courtesy: Don Utas

We felt that last years team had a great experience and several of those athletes tried out for the next level and are doing very well. This year, it was time for others to gain an experience so our roster is much different.

For our girls, we had training for four days but we also had it with the Cadet team, so it was a mixed group. We’re okay with that—we’re developing those girls as well as these girls—so we had a little bit of time together. From what I understand Canada spent a whole week training together in Canada and Brazil came out a week early, so their team dynamic is likely more developed than ours.

– This competition is about pride but the reality is that the rivalry between the American and Canadian women is fierce.

We felt that our top 19U team would have done very well. We do not get many chances to play international water polo, so we have to evaluate the pros and cons of each roster. There has always been a strong rivalry between us and Canada; this is my sixth UANA games. I have seen and felt it every time.

We did not bring a roster that we thought would lose to Canada—we brought one that would be challenged by this tournament, have potential to be great players for the USA, and have the ability to put up a fight in all games. Canada brought a very talented team and we came out flat and couldn’t recover within that game.

Looking at the big picture; [first is] qualifying, which we did; placement is important and you have to have pride in representing your country. That’s a big lesson to learn. Seeing Brazil and Canada celebrate after their wins against us taught each of us a lot about pride and coming together as a team to fight for each other and for our country.

– What makes this discussion compelling is the choice to include 12-year-old Emily Asmus on your roster for the UANA Cup. How did you make this selection—especially considering that a 15, 16 or 17-year-old was left off the squad in favor of Emily?

When you go into training and you look in the water and there’s no standout, in terms of a weak player; at no point did I think there was a 12-year-old in the pool. Even in competition; she’s very composed in her play.

Emily Asmus. Photo Courtesy: Peter Laurence / USA Water Polo

Her personality, her character—she’s mature enough to handle this tournament and level of play. We have our regional [ODP camps], we have NTSCs [National Training and Selection Camps] each to help our coaching staffs pick the top athletes. In all of those she stood out as being one of the top players with the 15 and 16-year-old girls. If she’s able to do that then she deserves a spot—I do not feel that it is about taking one away from someone else, she’s earned that opportunity.

– Next week many of these players will be back in California playing for their club teams in the Junior Olympics. How does this intersect with your focus on developing their skills?

I don’t directly talk to all of their coaches—I don’t directly know all of them so it is hard to see all of them play all of the time. Moving forward for these athletes, I always tell the girls that we are a resource, and are always welcome to contact me and our coaching staff.

If you’re going to be an Olympian you have to have the drive to work on quads upon quads, hopefully—you have to have a huge mental drive. We had a camp at the beginning of June to get ready for this event, from the time that camp concluded to the time we met at the airport training was placed on the girls.

Based on their experience here and our conversations about what we feel they need to work on, it is up to the athlete to take that home, process, and get to the work using the resources they have in their hometown.

We would limit ourselves and our talent pool if we forced all of our ODP athletes into one club. They’ve done well to get this far and we have several club/high school coaches that do a phenomenal job building this talent —especially if they’re outside of California. Athletes that are out of state do not have the advantage that Californians do. There is less water polo, which usually means less training and fewer games.

There’s never been a tournament in Tampa. They have this beautiful facility and USAWP heard about this pool and donated goals, balls, everything to make this happen.

One of our athletes here, Paola Dominguez-Castro—from Miami—does not [play] as much water polo as the rest of her teammates. Miami has water polo, coaches, other teams to play, high school leagues, which is great. But in order for Paola to play in a large tournament she has to leave her state.

Paola Dominguez-Castro. Photo Courtesy: Peter Laurence / USA Water Polo

– Which brings us to the state of the sport in Florida and Ms. Dominguez-Castro, a local girl made good (so far)! How does she stay in the mix for a spot on the senior national team?

It’s about trying out. We did integrate the academy team because, in the pipeline you’re at the tournament and then generally we won’t see you until tryouts for our next cycle which is 2 to 4 months after the tournament. But we understood these gaps so we have integrated an Academy training once a month for a day or two.

It’s not a lot but Paola has been flown out for those, that way she’s practicing with elite athletes. It’s a mixture of our top youth girls with a few Cadet-aged girls, so she’s getting that training with the youth staff and me.

There is also Kayla Yelensky from Connecticut who made last year’s roster and who we took on the Academy roster as well. She was also able to be flown out for trainings. It’s us trying to give them opportunities to train with other elite athletes.

Another resource is film. We filmed every game while here, we’re tagging it, we’re uploading it so [athletes] have access to it. It allows them to see and process the game in a different way. If Paola is planning on staying with the national team and in our system, this is how we play. By watching film, she can have an advantage in that she can process the game and ask questions; this is something that we are using more and more.

Aside from the games from this tournament there is plenty of film on YouTube that athletes can watch and break down too.

Resources out of the water can be a huge benefit for Paola.  She might be one of the top players for her high school, she’s very good at faking an entry pass, she is a strong shooter and her defensive game has improved greatly. Plus, she has a flair to her game and that’s a huge benefit. Her style helped us out tremendously last year.

The pride that she brings to the table for us and her will to win is impressive. We got stuck in a press last year and some of her teammates were struggling she [rallied us]; she has a fire inside that is hard to stop. That was a huge momentum changer and led us to a gold medal last year.

– Because polo is currently a regional sport dominated by Californian, how does anyone outside of the West Coast have a chance at progressing along the ODP pipeline?

Our Hawaiian center, Christina Hicks, is playing up in Northern California this summer and has been there since May. There are several athletes that come to California for the summer to play because there’s so many practices going on, they’re not in school and it’s available to them. Right now, that is a solution, but we don’t want it to be long-term.

When I pick an athlete, I want to follow them and make sure that they’re going on the right path. Kayla had a great showing in Peru and I think and speak very highly of her. So far what she has done has been enough to get her noticed. Now moving into the youth age group, she has to improve her game even more, something she is very capable of doing. She still has so much potential. She is not here, we went with two inexperienced center defenders (meaning inexperienced in international water polo), to build that position.

Itzahiana Baca. Photo Courtesy: Peter Laurence / USA Water Polo

– So, what is an Eastern player to do to stay in the mix for the National Team?

We’d love to provide more resources and figure out how to expand [our programs] and I think this is a big piece of it. By USAWP placing this tournament in Tampa and trying to build the sport here there is a new location for East Coast athletes. If I am from the Northeast area and I can fly down to Florida instead of all the way to California for a tournament or to train that is much more feasible than Southern California.

But to place out of state athletes on one individual club team in California, that’s not necessarily going to improve those athletes—and it could take away from developing other athletes that are native to that area.

The nice thing about coaching Cadets—and I coach ‘03s [born in 2003], so I’m looking at 14 and 15-year-olds—is that I pride myself and my coaches on finding the potential athletes that might not gotten the pool time, athletes that are still physically growing and learning how to play the game differently due to how they are growing.

When looking at an athlete from out of state we consider that if we take them to NTSC and they make it to our June camp, could they improve quickly in a short period of time? We are in the water for 6-8 hours per day during those trainings, for some it might be equivalent to months of training due to limited resources where they are from.

Kayla Yelensky. Photo Courtesy: Alex Yelensky

Coming back to Kayla, an athlete that does not play competitive water polo 4-5 days a week with competitive tournaments on weekends. But an athlete that shows up to academy training and made last year’s Pan Am games because she works hard and has grown exponentially due to increasing the amount of high level water polo she has been exposed to.

Kayla is a hard worker and she’s very coachable—which is huge on my chart. That’s something that you have to have if you’re coming in from another state. Paola’s very receptive to what I ask her to do, and she already has this style that’s distinct—a new spice to our game—due to these characteristics we’re going to take them. We’re going to invest time into them.

Ideally it pans out.

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LumaLanes Performance of the Week: Jack Conger Rocks Another Sub-52 100 Fly

Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

This week’s Performance Of The Week, sponsored by LumaLanes, goes to Jack Conger for his performance in the men’s 100 fly at the Austin Speedo Sectionals.

Swimming in what is likely his last meet before US Nationals, Conger posted a 51.34 win in the 100 fly to win the event by over a second and continue what has been a strong long course season. The former Texas swimmer has become one of the most consistent long course Americans this year, posting several sub-52 second swims in the event.

Conger already has the top time for an American in the 100 fly in 2018 with a 51.00 from the TYR Pro Swim Series meet in Atlanta, and his time this weekend is still a half second ahead of the next fastest American this year (Michael Andrew’s 51.86 from the TYR Pro Series meet in Columbus). He has already been faster than he was at last summer’s nationals (51.33), and was just .01 off that time with his sectionals swim.

While Caeleb Dressel will be a major factor in this event in a few weeks, as seems to be in almost any event this season (he is currently the third fastest American with a 52.20), Conger is putting together a case to be a contender for the top spot this summer and potentially joining the exclusive sub-50 second 100 fly.  

Congratulations Jack Conger on earning Swimming World’s Performance of the Week!

Special Thanks to LumaLanes for sponsoring Swimming World’s Performance of the Week.

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