Sports

Olympic coach on familiar ground at Avery Aquatic Center

 

Before U.S. Olympic women's water polo coach Adam Krikorian won any national titles at UCLA, and before he coached the Americans to a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, he was just a kid from Mountain View playing club water polo at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center.

Every time Krikorian returns to the area, it's like visiting the neighborhood playground. It feels like home.

Krikorian's parents, and one of his brother's family, were on hand to share in what really was a celebration of women's water polo in Wednesday night's "Rumble to Rio."

In the middle of a successful coaching career at UCLA, in which he won seven national titles, still the most by one coach, he joined the USA coaching staff, taking over for his old college coach Guy Baker, who led the women to three Olympic medals.

Krikorian took over a veteran team that included nine players from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and helped them take the extra step.

He wasn't guaranteed anything more than a year when he first signed on. Krikorian had to prove himself all over again.

Maggie Steffens was the lone teenager on the 2012 Olympic team. She's still on the young side, with six players older and six players younger, but this time around she's only one of four returning players. There are three teenagers on Team USA this tour of duty.

“There were nine players with a ton of experience," Krikorian said of his first team. “Two of them played in four Olympics (Brenda Villa and Heather Petri) and a few more played in three. This is just the opposite. It's been a long journey and a long process."

Krikorian had to overhaul the team, and was brave enough to take on a lot of youngsters.

Steffens, Courtney Mathewson, Kami Craig and Melissa Seidemann, who were guided by the older group four years ago, are the leaders now and have been guiding the newcomers.

“The last group was a savvy bunch, veterans, hard-nosed and tough," Krikorian said. “This group is super talented. It's fun for me because I learned a lot."

Krikorian was the one asking the older players what the Olympics were like. Now he'd been through it and can help the rookies adjust.

Since winning the gold medal in 2012, Krikorian owns a 124-16-1 record. None of that matters, though. All eight Olympic teams have a clean slate.

“The way we look at it," Seidemann said, “is we have seven of our biggest rivals to play."

The U.S. opens play against Spain, the team it beat in the gold-medal game four years ago.

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