After Gold Medal, Adam Krikorian Expresses Concern Over College Water Polo Cuts

Aug 7, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; United States head coach Adam Krikorian is pushed in the pool after the United States beat Spain in the women's waterpolo gold medal match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tatsumi Water Polo Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
U.S. head coach Adam Krikorian celebrating the women's water polo team's gold-medal win Saturday; Photo Courtesy: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

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After Gold Medal, Adam Krikorian Expresses Concern Over College Water Polo Cuts

The United States is the world’s gold standard in women’s water polo, as a romp to their third consecutive gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics showed. But that status is tenuous as long as the sport remains in the crosshairs of colleges and universities looking to cut the sport for budgetary reasons.

That concern was top of mind for U.S. women’s water polo coach Adam Krikorian hours after the U.S. claimed its historic gold. It hits close to home for the former UCLA player and coach, but it applies much more broadly on the college landscape.

Aug 3, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Team United States centre forward Aria Fischer (9) and Team Canada centre back Kelly McKee (2) battle for the ball in a women's water polo quarter final match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tatsumi Water Polo Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Team USA’s Aria Fischer, one of a team-high five Stanford grads on the U.S. women’s water polo team, battles with Canada’s Kelly McKee, right, during a quarterfinal match at the Tokyo Olympics; Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

“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 told the Associated Press. “We don’t have anything else.”

All 13 players on the United States roster played collegiately. Granted, only four college teams provided players to Tokyo, and 12 were sourced from California powerhouses UCLA, USC and Stanford. (The lone outlier, as a non-Californian by birth and schooling, is Ashleigh Johnson, the tournament’s most outstanding goalie from South Florida by way of Princeton.)

Even as Eastern schools rise in prominence and talent, with Johnson as the exemplar, the constriction of the nationwide network is cause for concern. The college system is an advantage Krikorian believes the U.S. has to press, given that many American players ply their trade in the professional network of clubs in Europe, which remains absent in the U.S.

However narrow the outlet of the funnel to get to the national team may be, a wider catchment area at the other end is better for everyone involved. And with water polo being one of the more affected of the nearly 100 college programs cut in 2020 for budgetary reasons, it casts a pall over young girls who might want to get into and grow with the sport.

“I’m not sure what the future looks like for college sports like water polo,” Krikorian said. “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.”