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Arlie Schardt
August 10, 1970
Foaming it up in a California pool, a gang of the country's top water polo players swam like porpoises—and fought like barracuda—to select a new national champion and a potential Olympic threat
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August 10, 1970

Splashy Struggle For A Title

Foaming it up in a California pool, a gang of the country's top water polo players swam like porpoises—and fought like barracuda—to select a new national champion and a potential Olympic threat

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If not the best ever, De Anza surely must be the biggest. Even with 5'9" Olympian Gary Sheerer in the lineup, the starting unit averages 6'2" and 192 pounds. Last December Lambert took De Anza to Europe and won all 10 games on the tour. So, with all this going for De Anza, the tournament had promised to be fairly routine. But of equal interest to the club competition was the battle for the All-Star squad and the Olympic Committee tickets to a two-week European trip, including games against Hungary and Olympic champion Yugoslavia. This will be the first time a national team has toured in a non-Olympic year, another significant indication of the sport's new vitality in America.

An even better indication came where it was least expected—in the tournament itself. The second day of round-robin play had hardly begun last Saturday when every prechampionship assumption was blasted straight out of the water. In one of those contests which image-conscious officials tactfully describe as "physical, not rough, but, uhh, physical," Phillips upset De Anza 6-5.

Suddenly the team title was again a very interesting subject indeed. Phillips' victory threw the tournament into two days of new pandemonium, pressure and incredible tension as one team after another surged up, only to sink back.

Because Phillips is temporarily under strength this year, with two players absent due to military service and two others unable to leave their jobs, Coaches Monte Nitzkowski and Bob Horn built their lineup around the players from NCAA champion UCLA, where Horn coaches in winter, and stirred in two Olympic veterans, Stan Cole and Bruce Bradley.

De Anza also has lost one Olympic star to the military, but since it had beaten this same Phillips' team 11-2 in winning the Golden West Invitational three weeks earlier, the outcome seemed certain. Or it did until three goals by Eric Lindroth put Phillips ahead 3-1. De Anza Olympian Sheerer scored three of his own for a 4-3 lead, but Phillips rallied, again, and won 6-5.

Thus De Anza found itself no longer in control of its own fate. Even if it won all the rest of its games, De Anza could not win the title unless someone beat Phillips.

Come Sunday, someone did. Corona del Mar, a collection of exceptionally strong swimmers who have been grinding through two workouts daily since February, broke three tie scores to edge Phillips in another thriller 6-5.

Now the only undefeated team in the final round, Corona retained that status for just three hours, when De Anza came back to win a ferocious contest 8-7 and throw the tournament into a three-way tie. Phillips, Corona and De Anza, already exhausted, faced a grueling playoff round that would keep them in the pool for hours.

But De Anza did it. Weary and with every reason to feel waterlogged, the crew first beat Corona 8-4, and two hours later sank Phillips 10-9 to win its fifth national title in six years. But there was an added bonus in all the late excitement: the fact that the big boys had such trouble putting down the upstarts meant that there would be plenty of real All-Stars to make the tour. "We now have," sighed one tired coach, "a reservoir of the finest world-class players this country has ever produced."

If such high drama was a surprise, the high caliber of play was not. It reflected a meshing of factors—both in and out of the water—that bodes well for 1972.

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