One year ago in La Jolla UCLA dethroned USC to win its first NCAA men’s water polo championship in a decade. They repeated tonight with a 10-7 title win over the Trojans, largely founded on the play of their conference’s Most Valuable Player, goalkeeper Garrett Danner.
In that final match a year ago Danner faced long-time rival McQuin Baron, USC’s huge left-handed goalie who is currently slated to fill a spot on the USA National Team roster at the Rio Olympics. And after that meeting one year ago we delicately wrote that Danner got the best of the young counterpart. But in truth, the Bruin goalkeeper – listed (generously) at 6′ 1″ and 185 pounds – outplayed his rival by a noticeable margin.
He did so again this evening.
The gap was narrower as Baron was good, better than in 2014. But still, Danner was terrific and thrilling to watch, as he has been all season: a crafty, highly opportunistic and deceptively athletic keeper. Good enough to be tournament MVP in our opinion, taking nothing from the excellent Ryder Roberts who received that honor.
And good enough to get a look from USA Water Polo.
He won’t, most likely. We know that USA Men’s National Team coach Dejan Udovicic wants size, and Baron’s 6′ 9″ frame fits the bill. Plus, the young Trojan is improving with every additional game at the international level.
But Danner should get the chance. American fans would love it. And there’s precedent. See several-time Olympian Merrill Moses; 6′ 3″, athletic, clever, plays beyond his size, Magic Marker-ed as a starter on the American roster in Rio.
It’s likely too late. Olympic training squads are nearly set with only a few slots yet to be determined, if you ask people who know. Baron is considered the future, a big man with big upside (that dreadful, manufactured noun) and tremendous abilities. And maybe Danner doesn’t even want it.
But he deserves a chance. And it would be a blast to watch.