Terry's Take: The adventure continues...
We finished up the World League Super Final tournament a bit disappointed. For the second time in the tournament we played Italy and lost.
Italy jumped out early and took a 4-1 lead. We fought back and tied the score at 4 before Italy rallied and went back up by two.
In the fourth quarter, we had all the momentum. We scored to bring the match within one but then struggled to find the back of the net. We had some great chances, especially on the power play where we went just 3 for 10.
Down by one with 30 seconds left in the game, we called a timeout and set up a play for Ryan Bailey. It worked beautifully and Ryan rifled a back hand shot that hit the top bar and settled on the goal line (no goal). The end result was a 7-6 loss and a fourth-place finish in World League.
Merrill Moses led the way on defense with a strong showing in goal with 11 saves, while Peter Varellas led the team in scoring with three goals. Peter was actually Team USA's high scorer for the tournament with 10 goals.
Immediately after the game we went to our hotel and had a few hours to pack up and prepare for another long travel day.
Our journey to Montenegro began with a 5½-flight to Istanbul, Turkey. Leaving at 10 p.m. we arrived at 1:30 a.m. (with the time change) and then had a 5-hour layover in the Istanbul airport. There is not too much to do in the middle of the night in Istanbul. A few guys were able to get into the Star Alliance lounge at the airport because they have gold cards (having racked up enough miles with United Airline partners). So they rested pretty well and were even able to shower while the majority of us cruised the airport in "zombie mode."
After the layover, we then had another 2½-hour flight from Istanbul to Dubrovnik, Croatia. After picking up our luggage we loaded a bus for another 2½ hours from Dubrovnik to Budva, Montenegro. Exhausted, we finally arrived at our hotel at about 10 a.m., with our body clocks all messed up. Everyone slept for about 3 hours, and after lunch, we decided to do some team bonding (since there was no scheduled training that day) by do something fun together.
We rented a boat and toured the Montenegro/Croatia coastline. Tony Azevedo spent his last two seasons playing professionally over here in Montenegro so he had some good connections. The boat left from Tivat, Montenegro, and eventually ended up in Kotor, Montenegro. We enjoyed time on the Adriatic Sea together — exploring caves and just hanging out as a team.
It was a great day, full of sunshine, laughter and relaxation. There were some great conversations centered around our dream to win the gold in London. We finished the day with a nice dinner in Kotor as we watched the sun set over the sea and then headed back to rest and prepare for five days of good training with Montenegro.
Our training schedule is excellent over here. We do weights (P3) in the morning followed by 2 hours of water time on our own. We have been focusing on our leg work and pushing the guys pretty hard.
In the evenings, we play against Montenegro, which still has 20 players in itscamp, so we feel like we are playing against a small army. Training has been great.
The first night was a bit of a wakeup call. With two Montenegro officials, the game was a bit one-sided. Montenegro came out with much more energy and pressed us out to the walls. We struggled a bit with the physicality of the play because it was so different than what we had just experienced in Kazakhstan at World League. We have adjusted well and it is actually perfect for training.
In an all-out press you really have to work your legs much harder. Each player is being grabbed and held all the time and they are learning to rely more on their legs. This was evident in our game since the first night scrimmages have been much closer.
Montenegro won again last Wednesday night in a close game and last night was a tie. We will play them one more time on Friday before leaving for Croatia and preparing for our fight home on Saturday morning.
Weighing heavily on my mind is the final cut which must be made this weekend. It will be another difficult decision. I have been spending a good amount of time talking with Robert and Marco (my two assistants) and also a few of the older (veteran players) about this final cut. Obviously, it is an important decision for our team and our success in London; however, I also know that it is a decision that will impact all of these guys for the rest of their lives.
Once we get home, we will take a few days off before we resume training on Tuesday evening in Thousand Oaks. We will basically have three full weeks of training with our final 13-player Olympic Team before we leave for London on July 16. Our final preparation will consist of more tactics and fine-tuning as we prepare to make history in London.
The team appreciates all of the support that we get. We feel we are in a good place. Even with the fourth-place finish at World League, I am more confident than ever. Most of the time losing will teach you more about yourself than winning. So a few losses at World League does not scare me. In fact, I feel that we have grown a great deal on this trip and we are closer now to being the team we need to be to win the gold!
See you at the pool.
Karen Bloch unfolds her treatment table near the Cal Lutheran pool and a steady stream of players soon begins migrating in her direction.
By the look of it, one would think the U.S. men's Olympic water polo team is suffering from a rash of injuries.
But the opposite is actually true.
Bloch is usually not treating the players for injuries; the athletic trainer is trying to prevent them.
Bloch takes a more holistic approach to her care.
Not only does she use the traditional treatment methods, she incorporates nutrition, biomechanical and chiropractic techniques to keep the players in the pool.
"I am a big injury prevention person, so there is not one person I haven't worked on," Bloch said. "I have players coming to see me constantly for wellness treatments or adjustments and a lot of tissue work. The guys love the chiropractic adjustments. They love the feeling of an increased range of motion."
U.S. attacker Peter Varellas has been a frequent visitor to Bloch's table throughout the team's training sessions for the London Olympics.
"Karen has been critical to my physical preparation. I have chronic problems with some of my joints and she has quickly determined what techniques help keep me pain-free," Varellas said. "She has introduced several innovative therapy and recovery techniques that have changed the way our team views therapy."
Bloch will be making her second trip to the Olympics when the men's team leaves for London next month.
She was the athletic trainer for the U.S. women's water polo team four years ago in Beijing.
Bloch grew sentimental during the closing ceremonies because she figured it would be her only Olympic experience for a while.
Once she returned home to Long Beach, she went back to school to get her Doctorate of Chiropractic degree while still working as the Sports Medicine and Performance Coordinator for USA Water Polo.
In January, head coach Terry Schroeder called Bloch and asked if she wanted the job again with the men's team.
"It was really a dream come true because I remember thinking it would be so amazing to be in London," Bloch said. "I never thought it would happen, and I still get goose bumps just thinking about being able to go. It's even better that I am going as a dual-credentialed practitioner this time as an athletic trainer and chiropractor. London is going to be special for me for many reasons."
Bloch brings an athletic mindset to her profession.
She received a basketball scholarship to play at Western Illinois University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in physical education.
She received her master's degree in Health and Human Performance from Oklahoma State University, and was an athletic trainer at the University of Wisconsin.
In 2007, she was selected to join the sports medicine team for the Pan American Games. Bloch was assigned to women's water polo and wrestling.
"Being from the Midwest, I really had no clue about water polo besides watching it," she said. "I knew some of the biomechanics involved and how the throwing motion was kind of like football and it was set up like basketball and soccer. But that was about it."
But Bloch impressed U.S. women's water polo coach Guy Baker with her spirit and he requested she be the team's athletic trainer for the Americans in Beijing.
Bloch has since become immersed in the sport and how to help its athletes stay healthy.
Her most pressing goal is to make sure their bodies are in proper alignment and they have no muscular imbalances that could lead to injuries.
"I am really big on band work and doing the hyperbaric chamber, which is great for recovery and oxygen therapy," Bloch said. "The big thing is finding a happy medium of making sure we are working with the coaches and everyone else to make sure everyone is feeling good."
Bloch and Schroeder share a bond in their philosophies since Schroeder is a fellow chiropractor with an office in Westlake Village.
"Terry is great about being open and attentive to every little thing or suggestion and I am the same with him," she said. "We are always bouncing ideas off each other. I couldn't be happier with the teamwork."
U.S. attacker Adam Wright, 35, knows his aches and pains would be much greater if not for Bloch treating him with a deep muscle stimulator, hyperbaric chamber and magnetic therapy machine.
"As an older player who has been around for quite some time, the first word that comes to mind is spoiled," Wright said. "Karen has changed her life to make ours better. Life without Karen would be tough. … She has a great feel for her job and keeps us all going and gives us the ability to play at our highest level."
Although Bloch strives to keep every player injury free, the physical nature of water polo ensures it's an unrealistic ambition.
"Players get a lot of lacerations to the face because there is a lot of contact. It can get pretty brutal with broken fingers and guys poked in the eye," Bloch said. "There are a lot overuse injuries in the shoulder, hips and knees because of the repetitions."
But the team has been spared of any major injuries so far, and Bloch wants to keep it that way through London.
She knocks on wood when discussing the topic; fearful she may jinx the track record as the team pursues Olympic glory."Being involved with these guys has been a blessing to me," she said. "They are great guys and very respectful. They have accepted me with open arms and I love being around them. They are basically like family."