By Will Bellamy
The sun beat down mercilessly and shade was in short supply on Thursday evening, but nothing could stop water polo fans from filing into UC Davis’ Schaal Aquatic Center to watch the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team take on Serbia.
And their willingness to endure the heat was well rewarded as local pool fans got to watch a level of competition usually seen only on television during the Olympics or World Championships.
Because of its exhibitionist nature, the match did not adhere to traditional standards. The teams essentially played two games, with the scoreboard resetting after the mid-match break. The first half was played under experimental conditions that included a smaller ball, a shorter field of play and fewer-than-normal players in the pool (six) for each team.
Despite the unusual parameters of play, the intensity of the matchup was apparent from the start. In the first half, Serbia attacked the U.S. defense from all over the pool, launching shot after shot en route to a 15-8 victory.
After the halftime break, and with traditional international rules in place, the Americans came back with a similar level of ferocity and nearly pulled out a win. Serbia, however, held off a late charge by the U.S. to finish on top, 4-3.
Among the highlights of the contest was the play of defender Nic Carniglia, a member of the Davis Water Polo Club who, along with Nick Bisconti, was one of two high school players to take the pool for the U.S. Lodi High’s Carniglia attempted two shots and wrestled the ball away from a Serbian attacker on another occasion.
“(They were) OK, but they are still young and they will be up and down,” U.S. head coach Dejan Udovicic said of the two youngsters. “They’ve got potential and they’ve got talent, but they must know that this is the start of their journey and that they must work hard if they want to become good water polo players.”
Not surprisingly, former Olympian John Mann also impressed, slamming the ball past Serbian goalie Gojko Pijetlovic twice in the first quarter and once more in the third.
The exhibition, the second of four between the teams this week, appeared to be a major success. The stands were packed and the crowd was captivated by the game. Chants of “U-S-A” were frequently heard and rounds of cheers exploded after every American goal.
UCD was able to join the University of Pacific, Stanford and UC Berkeley as one of the hosts of the series for a number of reasons, according to Udovicic.
“(UCD head coach) Daniel Leyson is here,” he said. “Davis is one of the top eight teams in the country in college water polo. And why not? They’ve got good facilities (as well).”
A portion of the ticket sales from the game will go to disaster relief programs in Serbia, which has recently experienced severe flooding. The floods have caused billions of dollars worth of damage.