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PHOTO BY JARED GRAY, USA WATER POLO; TEXT BY DAN ALBANO, OCVARSITY.COM
The U.S. men's water polo team captured the bronze medal at the FINA Intercontinental Tournament on Saturday by defeating China, 19-7.

U.S. team routs China for third at FINA Intercontinental

STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH – The U.S. men’s water polo team showed a mindset Saturday worthy of its upcoming challenge of Olympic qualification.

Attacker Bret Bonanni (Mater Dei) scored four goals, four-time Olympian Tony Azevedo added three and goalie Drew Holland made nine saves as Team USA defeated China, 19-7, in the bronze-medal match at the FINA Intercontinental Tournament at Corona del Mar.

Australia, which edged the United States in the semifinals, captured the gold with a 9-6 victory against Brazil.

The Americans scored on their first four shots, including two from tournament MVP Luca Cupido (Newport Harbor), to open an early 4-1 lead. They led, 7-1, after the first period and 16-4 early in the fourth.

“It’s the tough teams that really bounce back in the third-place game,” Bonanni said of the U.S. mentality. “Everyone is coming off a tough loss in the semis but it’s that third-place game where you can see the heart of the team.”

The United States’ youthful potential also was clearly visible. High school junior Ben Hallock of Harvard-Westlake of North Hollywood scored twice and made a slick, left-handed assist from center to Alex Obert for a goal.

Bonanni (Stanford), Holland (Stanford), Jackson Kimbell (Stanford), Cupido (Cal), Obert (Pacific) and 6-foot-9 goalie McQuin Baron (USC/Mater Dei) are U.S. players with remaining collegiate eligibility.

“The potential is there to be great,” said Olympian John Mann (Corona del Mar), who scored twice. “We’re going to grow and we’re going to surprise the world at the Olympic Games.”

U.S. coach Dejan Udovicic has already seen progress, including how his players responded from a an "emotional" 17-16 shootout-loss against Australia.

"This is a process," he said. "I'm pretty much glad how the boys returned back (against China). ... I don't think no one beat China with that margin of goals in the past. We got a huge gap in front of us, that we can build our game. ... (I'm) looking forward as soon as possible to be competitive with the powerhouses from Europe."

Udovicic also used the word "potential" in addressing his team's future, which could include a showdown against Canada at the Pan American Games this summer in Toronto.

"We have huge potential," he said. "If we keep progressing in the right direction, it doesn't matter if we're going to play against Canada, everybody in Canada, I don't care. This is our goal, to win Pan American Games and qualify directly to the (Olympic) tournament."

Contact the writer: dalbano@ocregister.com


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