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Merrill Moses heads to London on an Olympian quest [WATER POLO]

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Merrill Moses water polo

U.S. Olympic team water polo goalie Merrill Moses defends the goal during a match. Photo courtesy Straffon Images

Merrill Moses, the starting U.S. water polo goalkeeper, once owned a silver medal. He earned it at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Then, in 2010, while he was on vacation with his family, the medal was stolen from his mother’s home, which is why this year he’s going to try even harder this summer to bring home a gold.

“I was devastated,” said Moses. “But it just pushes me harder to get the gold this year.”

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The Rancho Palos Verdes native began playing water polo after he decided football was too hot. One day after football practice during his freshman year at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, Moses walked onto a pool deck and realized he was playing in the wrong place.

He was fated to his position early when nobody else on the team wanted to be goalie.

“Every kid wants to score,” said Moses. “I fought my coach on playing goalie and he let me play half and half that year, until my junior year when I was starting goalie on varsity.”

Rancho Palos Verdes and the South Bay beach culture had a big influence on getting him in the water.

“I’m thankful to be raised there,” said Moses. “It’s very family oriented and focused on athletics.”

Merrill Moses grew up on Rancho Palos Verdes and played goalie at Peninsula High. Photo courtesy Michael Larsen

Merrill Moses grew up on Rancho Palos Verdes and played goalie at Peninsula High. Photo courtesy Michael Larsen

Moses, who went to Pepperdine on a full scholarship, beat out both of the school’s starting goalies. His team won the NCAA National Championship in 1997. Moses was named Most Valuable Player after blocking 70 shots during the tournament. In 2004, he worked his way through the national team system but was the final player cut from water polo team that competed in the Athens Games.

He subsequently quit water polo. He ventured into a loan business but after two years felt unfulfilled. Then, in a twist of fate, a chiropractor who had been a member of the 1984 and 1988 Olympic teams, Terry Schroeder, took over as coach for the U.S. team and asked Moses to come back.

“I ended up putting the suit and tie away and taking out the Speedo again,” said Moses.

He told his coach that to be in shape for the upcoming Nationals and eventually the Olympics he would need at least one year to train. His coach gave him two, and in 2008 his team won the silver medal, losing by four points to Hungary. Moses was named best goalie in the Olympics.

Now, Moses and his team are focusing on the games ahead.

“We’re getting ready to win a gold in 28 days,” said Moses, who has been training with the team non-stop for eight months in Thousand Oaks. “It’s weird, but it feels like last time we lost a gold – not won a silver. That’s how you feel when you’re there.”

Last time, the team trained together only three months prior to the Olympics. Moses feels that the extra time getting to know each other will help them ultimately succeed.

Because there are no European-style, pro water polo leagues in the U.S, Moses and his wife, who is expecting a baby girl in October, have lived in Europe between Olympics. From 2008-2009 he played for Sibenik, Croatia and from 2009-2011 he played for Nervi, Italy, each year helping to bring his team to the playoffs.

Now he’s back in his own country fighting for glory.

“The Olympics is the biggest stage in sports,” said Moses. “Last time I definitely had butterfly wings in my stomach.”

Moses feels there will be more pressure than in Beijing. In 2008, the team wasn’t expecting much because they were ranked 9th. They were as surprised as anyone by their own success in winning a silver.

“I think being nervous is a good thing, though,” said Moses. “I just hope this year they’ll hoist the flag and we’ll hear our national anthem.”

The Olympic water polo tournament begins July 29.

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