The distance to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing is distant on the map, but the time to the Aug. 8 opening is near on the calendar.

In San Diego, though, we got a chance to get close to the Olympics with the USA Olympic Women’s Water Polo team facing Australia Sunday before a full house of 600-plus fans at La Jolla High’s Coggan Family Aquatic Complex. It wasn’t a bad way to spend the day, especially if you have a daughter who likes sports.

The U.S. lost to Australia 12-11 in Sunday’s match that was the second of four that will be played within a week between two of the world’s top-ranked teams. The loss followed a 13-12 win on Friday at Los Alamitos.

The teams play again at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Coronado High’s Brian Bent Memorial Aquatics Complex and Thursday in a match at Stanford that will be broadcast on MSNBC.

“These are always great matches when we play Australia,” said Moriah van Norman, a 5-foot-10 center from San Diego that scored two goals.

“We’re two of the best teams in the world. The play is always physical and it’s only going to make us better.”

The matches Sunday and Tuesday mark a rare homecoming for van Norman, a University of San Diego High alumnus. The three-time All-American led USC to the 2004 NCAA title when she won the Cutino Award as the national Player of the Year.

“It’s great to be home and get a chance to play in San Diego — or even America,” van Norman said. “We don’t play many matches here.”

This was pretty much the real thing, although in exhibition matches coaches are going to hold back something before the games count next month. At the 2007 World Championships, the USA beat Australia in the final for the gold medal.

Van Norman was a member of the USA team last year when it won the World Championships in March and the Pan American Games in July.

“She’s been with us full time for two years, and each year she gets better,” U.S. women’s coach Guy Baker said. “It’s a demanding position, and we’re counting on her. She’s physical and has good instincts.”

Van Norman, 24, said she first began dreaming of being an Olympic athlete 10 years ago. She was still a swimmer then before she recognized her future was in water polo.

“I’m very excited, but we’ve still got some things to work on,” she said. “I don’t think it will hit me (that she made the Olympic team) until later, because we practiced about six hours the day the Olympic team was named.”

Van Norman’s only regret is she won’t be able to play her first Olympics alongside San Diegan Ericka Lorenz, a Patrick Henry High alumnus. Lorenz didn’t recover from shoulder surgery that she underwent after last year’s World Championships.

Lorenz’s career includes two Olympic medals (2000 silver, 2004 bronze) and three World Championships medals (2003 gold, 2005 silver and 2007 gold).

“It’s extremely hard,” van Norman said. “She’s one of the best water polo players to come out of San Diego. I’ve always looked up to her as a great athlete and person. She is the face of women’s water polo in San Diego.”


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