The Long Beach State men’s water polo team will be sending four of its members to represent three different nations at the upcoming FINA Men’s Junior World Championship Dec. 12 through Dec. 20 in Kuwait.
Junior center Quinten Osborne and sophomore utility Garret Zaan have been selected to represent Team USA, while sophomore utility Matt Morris and freshman utility Raul Morales were selected to represent New Zealand and Brazil, respectively.
The tournament is held every two years to showcase players under the age of 20.
While the four are teammates at the Beach, Morris and Morales will match up on Dec. 16 when New Zealand faces Brazil in Group D play. The other nations in Group D are Australia, Greece and Uzbekistan.
“It’s going to be really fun matching against Raul [Morales],” Morris said. “That match-up will decide who advances to the next round.”
Greece currently ranks No. 1 in FINA men’s water polo rankings. Australia is ranked No. 11, New Zealand is ranked No. 18, while Brazil and Uzbekistan are currently unranked.
“I’m super stoked for Garrett and Quinten representing team USA,” Morales said. “I also look forward to face Matt [Morris]. Our matchup might decide who advances to the next round, so I’m excited for that.”
No. 8 Team USA will square off against No. 7 Italy, No. 16 Iran, No. 5 Montenegro and unranked Kuwait in Group C in hopes to advance to the knockout round as the first seed. While Team USA is expected to play well, Brazil and New Zealand will have to fight for the third seed given the difficulty of the group.
“It’s going to be good friendly competition,” Zaan said about the possibility of facing Morris and Morales after group play. “I hope they make it out of their group because I want to play one of them.”
All four student-athletes are honored to be representing their country in such a prestigious tournament. They also recognize that this is a great chance for them to showcase their skills and secure a spot for future competitions.
“As a kid, you always dream of representing your country in international competitions,” Morales said. “Once you achieve that, it’s great. I’ve been preparing for the championship games since I got here to Long Beach. This is my first world championship and this will help me get ready for next season to play here.”
The competition represents more than just a game for Morris, who will be able to see familiar faces after spending the semester so far roughly 6,500 miles away from home.
“I look forward to seeing my friends,” he said. “I haven’t seen them in a while. I grew up playing with those guys so I’m excited for that.”
Morris has been involved with the national team since he was a teenager. “I’ve been in contact with the [New Zealand] coach all the time,” Morris said. “The integration with the team shouldn’t be hard. Being back to the team will help them as much as it will help me. [Coach] Gavin and the other coaches here are doing a great job coaching us [at Long Beach] so that we take the things that we learn here and take them back home.”
During his freshman year, Zaan earned an honorable mention as an All-American and made the All-Freshman team in the Golden Coast Conference. During the 2019 season, Morris scored 45 goals in 28 games with a shooting percentage of .517.
“It’s an honor to be part of this team,” Zaan said. “I know there’s a great group of guys and I know the coach well. I’ve been working hard all year to be part of this [team]. I’m happy Quinten made the team as well, we’ve been friends for a long time”
Fellow USA teammate Osborne, who helped UCLA capture third place in the NCAA Championship in 2018, has scored 28 goals for the Beach since transferring. The competition brings excitement for Osborne, as all players will be able to show their talent while performing for their countries.
“It’s an honor to represent Team USA,” Osborne said. “It’s great to have a variety of international players [at Long Beach]. Everyone brings their ‘flavor’ to the team.”
Team USA will make its debut Thursday Dec. 12 against Italy while New Zealand will square off against Uzbekistan. Brazil will face Uzbekistan Dec. 13.
Mark Lindahl, Sports editor, contributed to this article.