Cal’s Lorenz leads Americans with two goals at Spieker
When Ericka Lorenz hits the water at Spieker Aquatics Center on the UC Berkeley campus, she’s always been representing the Golden Bears. But on Saturday, she had a different uniform on, one with “USA” across it, and her opponents weren’t Trojans or Bruins but Aussies.
Current Cal student and 2000 Olympic women’s water polo team member Lorenz scored two goals on Saturday to help lead the U.S. team to an 8-6 victory over the Australian national team in the final match of the four-game International Challenge Series. The win, in which three current Cal players participated, gave the U.S. a 3-1 overall advantage in the series, which was a small measure of revenge against the team that beat them for the gold medal in Sydney, Australia, in the 2000 Olympic Games.
The match also extended up a long stretch of international competitions for the U.S. team in the three weeks. They won the Thetis Cup in Greece on June 3, finished second to Australia in the Canada Cup, and wrapped it up with the four-game northern California tour. The first three games were in Fresno, Roseville and Palo Alto, respectively.
“It’s just nice to be home, to get to see all of my friends again,” Lorenz said. “My parents even surprised me be coming up from San Diego.”
Lorenz started the game shakily, however, as she earned two ejections in the first period, both of which led to power-play goals by Australia. But the U.S.’s Heather Moody kept the Americans in it with two goals in the period, and teammate Rachel Scott scored a goal with 13 seconds left to tie the score at 3-3.
The second period was more of the same, with neither team able to pull away. Rana Tito scored for Australia, but Lorenz answered with a laser shot from the outside past Aussie goalkeeper Liz Weekes to tie the score, and Kathy Sheehy scored from the hole with 31 seconds left to put the U.S. up 5-4 at halftime.
In the second half, Cal’s Fana Fuqua replaced Bernice Orwig in goal for the U.S. With Lorenz, Fuqua and Heather Petri, not to mention former Cal star Courtney Johnson, on the squad, Cal was the best represented college program on the U.S. team.
Fuqua proceeded to fairly shut down the Aussie offense, allowing just a penalty shot to dent her net in the next 10 minutes of action. Lorenz scored on another outside shot, then Cat von Schwarz scored a no-look backhand from in front of the Australia goal to finally open a two-goal lead at 7-5. Brenda Villa scored halfway through the final period to assure the U.S. of victory, and all Australia could do was score on a sudden restart that caught Fuqua napping with three minutes left.
After the game, the players mingled with each other and the fans, a remarkable showing of sportsmanship considering the intense rivalry between the teams.
“These teams get along, which is rare at this level of play,” said U.S. coach Guy Baker. “We play each other so much and play so hard, you’d expect things to get a little testy. But that really hasn’t happened.”
Part of the reason for the friendship is that the tour is intended to promote the sport in the U.S. Baker said women’s water polo is the fastest growing sport in the country, and having the players be friendly and accessibleto fans is part of that equation.
“We want this to develop into a national sport,” he said. “Part of that is to be successful over a long period of time, but we also need to have contact with the fans. It was great to see so many kids in the stands, kids that can look up to our players.”
The crowd of about 300 people was clearly pro-American, and the Cal players got particularly loud cheers before and during the game. But the players seemed to appreciate the fans just as much, if not more.
“A lot of this tour is about promoting the sport, and it’s great to see fan support,” Johnson said. “We’ve had success when we leave the country, now it’s time to see what we can do at home.”
For Johnson, who was Cal’s female athlete of the year in 1996, the game was a chance to revisit the site of her college triumphs.
“It’s nice to be back here. This pool holds so many memories for me,” she said. “Of course, Haas Pavilion is way bigger than I remember.”
When Johnson started at Cal, women’s water polo was a club sport. The Bears have risen quickly and achieved a No. 4 national ranking last season.
“It’s tremendous what they’ve done in the past few years,” she said. “The talent increase is just amazing, and the societal views of women athletes has changed so much.”
The U.S. team next heads to the Holiday Cup in Los Alamitos, July 4-7. Team USA will be one of eight national women’s teams competing in the tournament.