The USA Water Polo Women’s National Team program won gold for the first time at the 29th World University Games. The win was the latest tournament victory for Team USA this year after the Senior National Team earned victories at the Kunshan Cup, FINA World League, Vodafone Cup and FINA World Championship. The senior team traveled to Europe and Asia (twice), over 40,000 miles, to compete against 14 different national teams and went 29-0 during this three-month stretch and are the first team ever to medal at a World Championship after winning Olympic Gold.
Team USA is dominating global water polo during the “golden era”, since the inclusion of women in the Olympics (2000) and receiving NCAA championship status (2001). Team USA medaled in 27 of 32 (84%) FINA senior events since the 2000 Olympics and is the two-time reigning World and Olympic Champion.
Kyle Utsumi, author of the Women’s 2000 Olympic Team story, “Sydney’s Silver Lining” (https://www.sydneyssilverlining.com), provided the following statistics.
2000-2017 Women’s FINA Senior Events (2000 Olympics to current)…5 Olympic, 9 World Championship, 4 World Cup & 14 World League = 32 FINA events, USA results:
• 27 medals (29 medal rounds)
• 20 gold, 5 silver, 2 bronze (4th twice, 5th twice, 6th once)
• currently 8 straight gold medals (2014-2017)
• currently 15 straight wins in tournament finals (2009 World Championships to present)
Competitors: Four countries are tied with two gold (AUS, ITA, HUN, GRE) and RUS, ESP, NED, CHN have one gold each.
Total Medals: USA 27…AUS 18, RUS 12, ITA 9, CAN 8, GRE 6, HUN/ESP 5, NED/CHN 3
The future is also bright for Team USA. Since 2000, the following medals have been earned:
Junior Worlds (age 20U)…6 medals in 8 championships (2001-2015), 4 gold
Youth Worlds (age 18U)…1 medal in 3 championships (2012-2016), 1 gold
How has Team USA achieved this success and will it continue? Success is achieved because of a number of resources that are available to most national teams. The combination and consistent utilization of these resources are the core of past and future Team USA success.
Excellence By Design - Resources:
1 Opportunity to play…club (500+), HS (1,000+), college (200+, NCAA/JC/club teams), masters
2. Foundation...Women's National Team dating back to 1970s laid groundwork for higher level play opportunities (Olympics, etc.)
3 Athletes…quantity (35,000+) and quality (excelled at other sports before water polo)
4 Olympic Development Program (ODP)…potential identified and pipeline to Olympics
5 NCAA…considered by many the best league in the world, student-athlete connection, scholarships to play
6 Coaching…continuity, consistent, elite, system of play, process, respect of players
7 Training…physical therapy, weight, nutrition and sport psychology
8 Support…(USAWP, NCAA, USOC, club, professional) and future career assistance
9 Professional…experience and self-discipline opportunities in Europe and Australia
10 Turnover…opportunity to advance up the national team pipeline, Olympic Dream
11 Culture…a field block is as valuable as a goal, the extra pass, help defense
How Has Team USA Been The Dominant Team In The "Golden Era" (2000-)?
KYLE UTSUMI…”In my opinion, gaining NCAA championship status was a major key to the success of the national team. Olympic status was an important and long-overdue achievement, but the expansion of our collegiate system led to the growth that makes our base so strong. Rather than bottom-up growth, we experienced top-down growth. The opportunities to play in college led high schools to rapidly add girls water polo, which in turn created demand for 14-under programs.
As clubs supported these female athletes, the level and amount of competition rose at an incredible rate. Between 14-under Champions Cup (formerly the Speedo Cup), high school leagues, U.S. Club Championships, and of course, Junior Olympics, our top female athletes are playing a large number of high-level, high-stakes games every year. ODP added real competition between zones about 10 years ago. By the time an international caliber player reaches college, she has played a significantly larger amount of important games than a player two decades ago. The collegiate game increases strength, speed, focus and preparedness. The amount of experience our college players have amassed is, I believe, hard for our competitors to match.”
Dan Klatt, Women’s Head Coach, World University Games 2017 and UC Irvine…”I believe that Team USA is the most difficult team in the world to make. The commitment, culture and style of play demand the best. Women willing to prepare, make the extra pass, and that take pride in defense have taken USA to the top. The ODP and NCAA structure has clearly helped identify and prepare our women for the next level.”
Kiley Neushul, Team Captain World University Games 2017, Olympic Gold Medalist 2016…”Team USA’s path to the top is based on a legacy of hard work and strong teams. A number of 2016 women Olympians have family members that played elite water polo and passed on these values. That legacy contributes to a culture that is passed down through the USA National Team pipeline. Adam Krikorian drives the culture with joint senior, junior and youth training and competition that teaches future Olympians what it takes to win.”
Mary Brooks, Senior Team Member 2017, ODP 2008-2014…”Team USA dominates because we are willing to make the extra pass and a field block has the same value as a goal. I started playing water polo at age 8 and made my first National Team at age 11. Since then I have been moving through the pipeline and made my first Senior National rosters this summer. Team USA is all about team, which is why I love it, and why we win.”
How Will Team USA Continue To Dominate In The Future?
KYLE UTSUMI…”I think a big part of our advantage is that with our development system, we can replace talent with great success. Looking specifically at the Olympics and retirements after Beijing, London, and Rio, we are maintaining our consistency because the pipeline is stocked due to the factors I mentioned above. As far as dominance, and continued dominance, this is our advantage.
At the 2004 Olympics, Italy and Greece won gold and silver; in 2008, they were 6th and 8th. Italy fell to 7th in London and Greece failed to qualify for London and Rio. After winning the gold in Beijing, the Netherlands failed to qualify in 2012 and 2016. Australia was consistent for a good stretch with their core of players: 2004 4th, 2008 bronze, 2012 bronze. But they fell to 6th in Rio. Spain came on as the new challenger, winning silver in London (and gold at home at the World Championships in 2013). They fell to 5th in Rio.
Our trajectory in the Olympics: 2004 bronze, 2008 silver, 2012 gold, 2016 gold. Italy bounced back in 2016 for silver (2004 gold, 2008 6th, 2012 7th, 2016 silver). Russia is the third nation to qualify for every Olympics (along with USA/AUS) - including Sydney, their results: 3rd, 5th, 7th, 6th, 3rd. My point is, our competitors may experience more cyclical variation in results based on roster turnover and development, while we have proven to be consistent despite roster turnover. We can't stop our competitors from development -- but we can keep reloading from our pipeline with experienced and highly talented players.”
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