For Team USA Water Polo and its Captain and Coronado local Jesse Smith, the opening games of the 2020 Tokyo Games could not have gotten off to a much better start. With victories over Japan and South Africa, the United States and Smith have positioned themselves well heading into their marque matches versus water polo powerhouses Hungry, Greece, and Italy.
In their first game of the week, while Smith did not play, the 15-13 victory over Japan was thrilling nonetheless. Japan got out to an early three-goal lead in the first half. This was a shock to many American water polo fans.
But as Smith had told me in a pre-Olympic interview, “We are not a team that will be shaken. We know the task at the head and we’re ready to take everything on. We’re relentless.”
That strong-willed mentality would be on full display during the American’s comeback.
The one-goal lead remained in the final minute before first-time Olympian Johnny Hooper would fire home a skip shot to ice the game for the United States. For the Americans, the scoring barrage and the comeback was spearheaded by another San Diego local Alex Bowen, who led all scorers for Team USA with five goals.
With the opening game victory, and hopefully, some juiced up confidence now under their belt, Smith and the Americans turned their attention to South Africa. While Smith didn’t play in the game against Japan, he was suited up for Monday’s match-up. Perhaps it was the Coronado Product’s dominance or defense or something the team ate pregame, but whatever the case may be, the Men’s team that showed up on Monday was far different than the one that had played Japan, as the Americans took home a huge 20-3 win over the South Africans.
Bowen continued his hot start in Tokyo delivering the first goal of the match for a 1-0 lead. Luca Cupido followed not long after to make it 2-0 with 5:01. Not to be outdone his by his teammate, Ben Hallock take to make it 2-0. However, it was the American’s nine goals in the second quarter that really put the game out of reach early.
But was perhaps even more impressive than the Americans’ offensive display, was the defensive effort put forth by Smith and company. All night the captain and Coronado local wreaked havoc on the attackers on South Africa.
“He simply doesn’t age,” said NBC Sports correspondent and former teammate of Jesse Smith, Tony Azevedo. “He’s a specimen in the water. He bullies guys and might just be the stronger player in the water at all times. He is so strong, it’s almost impossible to get around him sometimes.”
In his time in the pool Monday night, it was easy to see why Smith was not only named the captain of the Olympic team but why he has been the captain since 2017 as all night he constantly directed traffic on both ends of the pool, to help make sure that the younger first-game players were always in their correct spot. Smith’s dominant night was almost made even more special when it appeared he was going to net his goal of the 2020 games. But it clanged just of the top crossbar.
Overall Monday’s nights game showed Smith’s immense value as both a leader and dominant defender.
With two key pool play wins Smith and his fellow American teammates will now look to their next opponent, Italy on Wednesday, July 28 at 10 p.m. PT. In what will undoubtedly be the Americans biggest test to date.