Guest blog written by one of our “on-the-ground” reporters and bloggers, Logan Schiciano.
After raring to play all week, the Juniors Boys’ Water Polo Team had a “rude awakening,” as many players on the team put it, in their opening match against Hungary on Sunday, Aug. 4.
Right from the first whistle, Maccabi USA was at a disadvantage. Team Hungary was playing in front of their home crowd and at their home pool, Alfred Hajos National Aquatic Center. Additionally, Maccabi USA only had two training sessions as a full squad prior to the game – this was presumably far less than the Hungarians – who Maccabi USA’s Head Coach Kirk Lazaruk speculated had been playing together for six or seven years.
From a game standpoint, Hungary’s team had an edge in the speed department, as they got to the center of the pool first following each game restart, gaining possession every time. They also appeared to play more physical, wrestling for the ball with relentless pursuit throughout the game. Turning strong defense into offense, Hungary was on top 7-0 before the first period came to a close.
Despite a shaky opening, which Coach Lazaruk attributed partially to nerves, Team Maccabi USA improved steadily over the next two quarters of play. With 5:24 remaining in the second period, Maximillian “Max” Pollock (Mill Valley, CA) put his squad on the board when he slipped around his defender and fired a shot passed the Hungarian goalkeeper. A bit later, the team would score again, but this time it was a different “Max”, Max Stone (La Jolla, CA). He pump-faked twice from straight-on, before throwing the ball into the top left-corner netting. The team would notch another goal before the end of the first half and managed to get outscored by only two in the second period. Coach Lazaruk was proud of his team for coming back strong, “They started to settle down and played within their skill sets.”
The sides matched-up fairly evenly at the beginning of the third period as Team Maccabi USA scored four goals during the first six minutes. Two of the goals came from Pollack while the others were converted by Maximo Speiser and Zachary Hausner, both who hail from Pacific Palisades, CA. On the other side, the goalie for the second half of the game, Jacob Berrol of Mill Valley, CA, (Kyle Perason from Key Biscayne, FL played goalie in the first half) made a few key saves, including one that came off a penalty shot by Hungary’s László Strasszer.
Coach Lazaruk appreciated the improvements made by his team as the game progressed and specifically noted the success of Logan Kalish (Bethesda, MD), “He played outstanding. He did very well at fronting the Hungarian players.” Lazaruk mentioned that this tactic can be difficult considering the physical approach of the Hungarian team. Fellow team member and Belvedere, CA native Myles Cherry simply put it this way: “[The Hungarian style of water polo] is nothing like American water polo.”
Entering the fourth period of play with a 22-7 deficit, Team Maccabi USA scored two consecutive goals. One of the goals featured a beautiful pass across the length of the pool by the goalie, Jacob, that was put in the back of the net by Maximo. After the team would score one more, Hungary would close the book, winning the ball easily and flinging it to their teammates up ahead, who would have looks from point-blank range nearly every time down. Hungary concluded the contest scoring nine straight goals and winning by a score of 32-10.
In the loss, the three Maxes had six of the seven goals with Maximo Speiser and Max Stone scoring two apiece while Maximillian Pollack led the team in scoring by racking up four of the teams seven goals.
The team had only a short amount of time to think about the loss as they faced Israel on Sunday Evening. That match-up was completely unlike the opening contest as Maccabi USA routed the Israelis, 20-7. They continued their games on Mon. Aug 5 against Brazil and will play in the bronze-medal match on Tues. Aug. 6.
Whether it was a win or a loss, the players on the team all seemed to enjoy the competition and the atmosphere at the Games.