Volume 2:  Number 8            December 1, 2007

US National Men's and Women's Water Polo Players or Coaches

Each month a playeror coach from a US National Men's Team and a playeror coach from a US National Women's Team will give the water polo community some tips on how to play a particular position or a fundamental skill. In turn WPP will post a photograph and concise biography to help the water polo community get to know the players and coaches.

Defensive Key to Winning by Rick Merlo

As the saying goes, “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.” Every true sportsman knows this saying to be true. The million-dollar question is which defense is a championship defense.
 
In my past 13 years of playing water polo, five have been on the National Team; I have seen every type of defense known in any playbook.  For an example, the Hungarians and the Serbians like to use their strength to over power their opponent.  One might say their style is the best defense, since they have dominated the water polo hierarchy.  Then what about Spain, who is small and fast? They cannot play the same style as the Hungarians and Serbians but yet they can, and have beaten both of these teams in recent games. So which style is the best?

The answer to this question is very simple, team defense. This means that the whole team is on the same page and working together. There is not one style that is better than another. It comes down to the team, and how well they know their defense and how well the players work together.

At the last World Championships in Melbourne, Hungary was the best team on paper, followed by Serbia.  In the final standings, Hungary was second and Serbia was fourth. Croatia, a team overlooked by some, overcame these powerhouses and beat both of them by playing team defense. Croatia knew their system and knew it well. On paper they didn’t have the best of anything.  But as a team they all worked together to achieve their goal.  In my opinion, their defense was the best I saw last year, but not because of their placement of players.  They were the best because they worked as a team and became one unit, not six individuals.

I have seen it time and time again – the team that plays defense together wins together. Thus, the key to a winning defense is playing defense as a team. Remember this is not just learned in games but rather it is learned in practice as well. There is another saying that is applicable to this situation and it is, “A team will play the way it practices.”

RICK MERLO

Rick MerloINTERNATIONAL/CLUB: Young player whose strength at two-meter defense has prepared him for the international scene...Earned Outstanding Defender during the 2006 Premier League Series…Scored a goal for Team USA at the 2005 FINA World Championships in Montreal, Canada… Played at the 2005 Premier League for runner-up NYAC...First became involved with the Senior National Team when he practiced with the team in 2004…Scored the gamewinning tally against Russia during the World University Games in Daegu, South Korea in 2003...Picked up three goals against Spain at the World University Games in 2003.

PROFESSIONAL: Played for S.C. Paguros in Catania, Italy during the 2005/2006 season.

COLLEGE: Two-year team captain...Voted First Team All-American and All-MPSF in 2004…Named Big West Scholar-Athlete in 004...Second-team All-MPSF in 2003...Named to Third-Team All-American in 2003.

HIGH SCHOOL: Played at Buchanan High School in Clovis, CA...Awarded High School First-Team All-American in 2000...CIF MVP in 2000.

PERSONAL: Older brother, Mark, 26, was a former Academic All-American water polo player at UC Irvine... Younger brother Curt, 20, also plays water polo at UC Irvine …Says his worst water polo moment was when the ball hit his head, went into his team’s goal and they lost by one...Became involved in water polo through his older brother.

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION HIGHLIGHTS:
2006 FINA World League Super Finals, Athens, Greece, 5th Place
2005 FINA World Championships, Montreal, Canada, 11th place
2005 ASUA Cup Mexico City, Mexico, 1st place
2003 World University Games, Daegu, South Korea, 8th place

(Biography and Photograph provided courtesy of USA Water Polo)

New Playing Rules: Impact On the Game by Heather Petri

Following the 2005 World Championships many new playing rules were implemented with the objective being to enhance the abilities of the offense and increase the tempo of the game.  In simple terms, the new playing rules were designed to create more action, more movement and more viable offensive opportunities.    

We have now played two international seasons with the new rules and this article will focus on the major rule changes that were expected to have a direct impact on the game.  It must be noted, the actual impact of the new rules will vary by the skill and competitive level of the participants. 

MAJOR RULE CHANGES

  1. The shot clock was reduced from 35 to 30 seconds.
  2. A goalkeeper throw was awarded if a shot is blocked out of bounds by a defensive field player.  (A corner throw was still awarded if the goalkeeper blocks the shot out of bounds.)
  3. A player may take an immediate (direct) shot from outside the 5 meter line for a free throw awarded outside the 5 meter line. (Prior the direct shot was from the 7 meter line)
  4. Penalty shot is taken from the 5 meter line.  (Prior penalty shot was from the 4 meter line)
  5. It is exclusion foul for a defending field player to attempt to block a shot with two hands outside the 5 meter area.   
  6. It is a penalty foul for a defending field player to attempt to block a shot with two hands inside the 5 meter area.
  7. Quarters are 8 minutes with a 5 minute interval at half time, 2 minute interval between the 1st and 2nd quarters and 3rd and 4th quarters.
  8. The length of the field of play in women’s water polo was reduced from 30 to 25 meters.

IMPACT ON THE GAME

  1. 30 second shot
    1. Has increased the tempo of the game
    2. Counter Attack speed is very important
    3. Increased tactical emphasis on the Transition Counter Attack

    Note:  For our team there has been a little change, but nothing significant.  With the length of the course shortened to 25 meters our attack time is similar to when we played 30 meters with a 35 second shot clock.

  1. A goalkeeper throw is awarded if a shot is blocked out of bounds by a defensive field player:
    1. Has increased the tempo of the game  
    2. Has created more counter attack opportunities
    3. Has made the game more exciting
    4. Renewed emphasis on shot blocking

    Note: Great new rule. There is without a doubt more action in the game. 5x6 defense after a field player shot block out of bounds is becoming an opportunity to move quickly into our offense.

  1. A player may take an immediate (direct) shot from outside the 5 meter line for a free throw awarded outside the 5 meter line:
    1. There has been a higher success rate at the 5 meter line instead of the 7 meter line

    Note: This rule was expected to have the biggest impact on the game. Presently, that has not been the case. All the teams are playing a traditional style of offense. There are more direct shots being taken now than before, but not a significantly higher number. For right now no team has made the 5 meter direct shot there number one priority of their offense.

  1. Penalty shot is taken from the 5 meter line:
    1. Scoring percentage of penalty shots has decreased
    2. There seems to be more penalty shots being taken in the game

    Note: The additional meter has made a difference.

  1. It is exclusion foul for a defending field player to attempt to block a shot with two hands outside the 5 meter area:
    1. Rule was implemented to create more viable scoring opportunities from the perimeter

    Note:  Now this rule seems connected to the goalkeeper throw awarded for a shot blocked out of bounds by a field player.  Offense seems the same, but every team is emphasizing the counter attack following a shot block out of bounds by a field player.  All the teams are anticipating more counter attack opportunities.

  1. It is a penalty foul for a defending field player to attempt to block a shot with two hands inside the 5 meter area:
    1. Rule was implemented to increase 6x5 goals

    Note: Again, prior to the new rule most of the 5x6 defenses we faced did not have their field players shot blocking with two hands.  Sometimes we did face two hand shot blocking, but more times than not the field players were shot blocking with one hand.  We still face a number of different 5x6 defenses; storms, splits and modified 3x2’s. Many defenses are anticipating a field player shot block out of bounds and designing their defenses to create counter attack opportunities. 

  1. Quarters are 8 minutes with a 5 minute interval at half time, 2 minute interval between the 1st and 2nd quarters and 3rd and 4th quarters:
    1. Aerobic endurance is very important, in addition to speed with the 30 second shot clock
    2. Team depth is very important

    Note:  The longer the game the better.  Our training is designed around us being in the top shape and being able to handle the toughest situations.  The 5:00 break at half time, still seems like a long time.  We use the time to make adjustments if needed, rest, recover and re-focus.  

  1. The length of the field of play for the women is reduced from 30 to 25 meters
    1. Field of play reduction was incorporated because of the shorter shot clock

    Note: See Rule #1

While it was natural to be skeptical of the new rules, I do believe the new rules have had a very positive impact on the game.  The game has more action, the tempo is faster and there are more viable counter attack and offense opportunities.  

Heather Petri

Heather PetriINTERNATIONAL/CLUB: Began training with the national team on 1998…chosen at the last minute to train with the National Team for the 2000 Olympics… Is a strong contributor on both offense and defense for Team USA...Adds tremendous speed to the USA lineup...Scored in the USA’s gold-medal win over Canada at the 2003 Pan American Games to qualify for the Athens Olympics...Had four goals at Pan Ams...Saw a lot of playing time at the 2003 World Championships and scored in the USA’s semifinal win over Russia before the USA claimed the gold medal...Netted four goals at 2002 FINA World Cup...Olympic Silver Medalist at 2000 Sydney Games... A member of the Golden Bear Summer National Club Championship teams in 1998 and 1999.

PROFESSIONAL: Played for Rari Nantes in Florence, Italy during the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 seasons.

COLLEGE: Was a Collegiate All-American in 1999...Earned 1st Team All-Regional Qualifier...2nd Team MPSF, 1st Team MPSF Tournament and 1st Team All-National honors in 1999...Was named Team Captain at Cal Berkeley during the 1999 and 2001 seasons...Was fourth on the team in scoring with 33 goals in 199...Was a member of the 1997 and 1998 Cal Berkeley Collegiate National Teams which placed second in each season.

HIGH SCHOOL: Was a founding member of Miramonte High School’s first girls water polo team after having played on the boys team...Helped Miramonte win the North Coast section title her senior year...Served as a two-time captain of the water polo and swim teams at Miramonte...Was a Senior National swimmer with Walnut Creek Aquabears.

PERSONAL: Petri is known as “Peti” among her friends and teammates…One of the most experienced players on the National Team…Loves water polo because of the team comradery and working toward a common goal.

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION HIGHLIGHTS:
2006 Holiday Cup, Los Alamitos, CA , 1st place
2006 FINA World Cup, Tianjin, China, 4th place
2006 FINA World League, Cosenza, Italy, 1st place
2005 FINA World Championships, Montreal, Canada, 2nd place
2005 FINA World League, 5th place
2004 Olympic Games, Athens, Greece, 3rd place
2004 Holiday Cup, La Jolla, CA, 1st place
2004 FINA World League Series, Long Beach, CA, 1st place
2003 Holiday Cup, Los Alamitos, CA, 1st place
2003 Pan American Games, Dominican Republic, 1st place
2003 World Championships, Barcelona, Spain, 1st place
2002 FINA World Cup, Perth, Australia, 2nd place
2002 Holiday Cup, Palo Alto, United States, 1st place
2002 USA Cup, Chicago, United States, 3rd place
2001 FINA World Championships, Fukuoka, Japan, 4th place
2001 Holiday Cup, Los Alamitos, United States, 1st place
2000 Olympic Games, Sydney, Australia, 2nd place
2000 Olympic Qualification Tournament, Palermo, Sicily, 2nd place
2000 Holiday Cup, Los Alamitos, CA, 1st place

(Biography and Photograph provided courtesy of USA Water Polo)