US coach worried about future of collegiate water polo

Aug 6, 2021, 9:15 PM | Updated: Aug 7, 2021, 9:39 am

TOKYO (AP) — Forget about an aging roster and the future of coach Adam Krikorian, even the emerging young players on some of Europe’s top teams, the biggest threat to the dominant U.S. women’s water polo program just might be the shifting landscape at the collegiate level.

The U.S. won its third consecutive gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday, pounding Spain for a 14-5 victory. It broke its own records for most goals and biggest margin in the final while improving to 134-4 since it won gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

It holds every major title in the sport, and likely will have another loaded roster in Paris in 2024. But there are signs of trouble on the horizon.

Collegiate programs have fueled the United States’ rise, but the future of those teams is uncertain with the NCAA examining its system after it lifted its long ban on college athletes earning money for endorsement and sponsorship deals.

“It’s something that we’re very cognizant of and aware of, that the collegiate system for us is, if I could compare it to the system in Hungary or Spain, it’s essentially our professional system,” Krikorian said. “We don’t have anything else.”

Each of the 13 players on the U.S. women’s roster played college ball, and the American collegiate system also helped develop a couple of the top foreign players in Tokyo.

“Without it, our sport’s in jeopardy,” said Krikorian, who played at UCLA and coached the Bruins’ programs before taking over the national team.

“I’m not sure what the future looks like for college sports like water polo. I happen to think that water polo athletes are some of the toughest, certainly some of the brightest, and the most well-rounded human beings out there, and if you don’t want them on your campus, that’s unfortunate for you.”

European powers such as Spain and Hungary rely on clubs, professional leagues and training sites for developing most of their players. While praising the system in his country, Spain assistant Jordi Valls also paid tribute to what the U.S. is doing.

“I think, quite clearly, we have to recognize that a lot of hard work is done and there is a certain structure behind the U.S. team,” he said through a translator.

In the short term, the biggest question for the U.S. is the status of Krikorian, 47. He described himself as fried after dealing with the unusual challenges during this Olympic cycle created by the COVID-19 pandemic. He is going to take some time before deciding whether he wants to return for Paris.

While Kaleigh Gilchrist, who scored two goals in the final against Spain, and Melissa Seidemann likely won’t be back, the bulk of the roster could return for the 2024 Games.

Maddie Musselman the MVP of the Tokyo Olympics, just turned 23 in June. Star goaltender Ashleigh Johnson is 26.

No team — men or women — has ever won four straight water polo titles at the Olympics.

“Today, I think that was just a show of who we are as a team,” captain Maggie Steffens said, “that no matter the adversity that’s thrown our way, we stick together as a team and we rise up and we fight in those moments.”


Jay Cohen can be reached at


More AP Olympics: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


England's Phil Foden waves towards the fans after scoring his side's second goal during the World C...
Associated Press

England bonds over cards ahead of Senegal World Cup clash

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — For a nation that has frequently flattered to deceive at soccer’s major tournaments, a card game that relies on the art of deception is strengthening the bond among England’s players ahead of their match against Senegal in the World Cup round of 16. Werewolf, a game of roleplay and deduction, has […]
1 day ago
FILE - A partial view of the Stadium 974 prior to the start of the World Cup group G soccer match b...
Associated Press

Built to disappear: World Cup stadium 974

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Of the seven stadiums Qatar built for the World Cup, one will disappear after the tournament. That’s what the games’ organizers have said about Stadium 974 in Doha — a port-side structure with more than 40,000 seats partially built from recycled shipping containers and steel. Qatar says the stadium will be […]
1 day ago
France's Kylian Mbappe plays during the World Cup group D soccer match between Tunisia and France a...
Associated Press

Messi, Mbappé and co: The AP’s World Cup team of group stage

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Writers covering the World Cup for The Associated Press have chosen their standout players at the tournament so far to form a best team of the group stage. Spoiler alert: Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé are in there, along with surprise names who have helped to cause some of the many […]
1 day ago
Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole (3) changes direction while defended by Chicago Bulls forw...
Associated Press

Poole scores 30 points with seven 3s off bench, Warriors win

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Draymond Green is healthy and back to his elite level of doing a bit of everything on both ends, even leading the offense with the second unit. He just missed his first triple-double of the season. Green is regularly knocking down 3-pointers, too. Jordan Poole also found his groove from beyond […]
1 day ago
Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard, left, guards against Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) dur...
Associated Press

Markkanen, Kessler help Jazz overwhelm Pacers 139-119

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Lauri Markkanen had 24 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Utah Jazz to a 139-119 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday night. Rookie center Walker Kessler scored a career-high 20 points on 7-of-7 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds for Utah. Jordan Clarkson had 19 points and Collin Sexton […]
1 day ago
San Diego State forward Jaedon LeDee (13) shoots over Occidental forward Bernard Cassidy (34) durin...
Associated Press

Seiko, No. 24 San Diego St beat Division III Occidental

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Adam Seiko scored 20 points, including six 3s, to lead No. 24 San Diego State over Division III Occidental 95-57 on Friday night. The Aztecs (6-2) hit 19 of 37 shots from 3-point range. They won their second in a row after consecutive defeats to Arizona and Arkansas at the Maui […]
1 day ago
US coach worried about future of collegiate water polo