The expected clash provided the final drama: Fullerton faced off against Concord, battled the Aquatics to a 2-2 tie, the whistle blew—and so long, favorites. That earlier tie game had done them in. But out of it all a tough national team will take shape.
Next year will be a critical one. Cutino will take the team to the Pan-American Games in Brazil in April, and to the World Games at Cali, Colombia in July. To qualify for the Montreal Olympics, the U.S. must either win the Pan-Am Games or finish in the top six at Cali.
They might just do it: water polo is gaining new adherents and everyone in the family has high hopes for its future.
"The sport has really caught on in the colleges," says Bob Gaughran, chairman of the U.S. Olympic water polo committee. "They don't get too much publicity, but now that water polo is an NCAA sport, they're getting scholarships."
In addition to the two international competitions next spring and summer, the U.S. will compete against several college squads in the fall, and plans are under way to stage an international competition before S�o Paulo, against Hungary and possibly other world powers.
"Our players are faster swimmers by far," Gaughran says. "It's just that the European teams play longer, all year long. In Belgrade one of the Russians was appearing in his 300th international match. Our most experienced player had played in 30."
Still, after this tournament, U.S. water polo seemed to be starting a similar dynasty. Perhaps it's true that the family that plays together stays together.