Of the 900 members of the U.S.delegation to the 18th Maccabiah, over one-quarter of them hail from the Southern California area. The SoCal contingent includes heavy representation in karate, volleyball, swimming, soccer, and water polo. Among the world’s toughest sports, water polo players like to say it has “no helmets, no pads—just spherical objects used as projectiles.” (I’m paraphrasing here—this is a family blog!) And those balls are thrown at speeds of 90 mph at very close range.
Seven of the U.S. men’s 13-man squad hail from Southern California and are coached by Ben Quittner, who for 13 years coached at H20 polo powerhouse Stanford. If past is prologue, it looks like Israel is once again favored for the gold. In fact, the U.S. team hasn’t taken home the first-place medal since 1973. It’s no surprise, because the Israelis constitute the national team and train together all year round as members of the IDF. And while their average age of 24 is the same as the U.S. men, they are all the same age, while the U.S.men range from 18-24 and have only been playing together a few weeks.
Still, the U.S. men looked good in an early scrimmage against the Israelis, losing only by a goal scored in the last-seconds of the game. But the U.S. really showed its ability in a blowout against the Mexican team, 23-3 on Monday, the first day of competition.
The Mexican team arrived with much fanfare and its huge group of fans and unpacked red-white-and-green noisemakers and proceeded to fill the indoor aquatic stadium at the Wingate Institute with the kind of din you expect to hear at a World Cup playoff. They waved flags, blew horns and spun gigantic groggers in the national colors and the spirited cheering could be heard all the way to Mexico City. But in the end it wasn’t anywhere near enough.
Even though the U.S. team has only been playing together as a team for four weeks, they showed why they are the team for the Israelis to beat. They had their own cheering section, too—some family members accompanied the team, but a group of young Israeli boys and girls, all water polo players, took great delight in chanting: USA! USA! USA! So nice to be in a country where Americans are truly welcome.