Water Polo Preview
The USA Water Polo Men’s and Women’s National Teams enter the Pan American Games Lima 2019 as defending gold medalists.  In fact, both teams have won gold at each of the last four Pan American Games. 

While Team USA is looking to keep that winning pattern the same, two big differences arrive for water polo in 2019. First, Lima 2019 marks the return of the Pan American Games being a women’s qualifier for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, as Brazil claimed the continental qualification spot for 2016. Secondly, this event will feature the debut of the smaller, 11-athlete roster in preparation for Tokyo 2020. For the 2020 Games, roster sizes have been reduced for both genders from 13 athletes to 11, though the overall number of women’s teams have been increased from eight to 10. The Pan American Games will be the first major competition where Team USA will compete with the 11-person roster.

As for the teams, the U.S. women have already punched their ticket to Tokyo, claiming gold at the 2019 FINA World League Super Final in what was their first opportunity to secure a berth. The two-time defending Olympic gold medalists remain the best team in the world and as of press time, hold every major championship available. Anchored by captain and the MVP from London 2012 and Rio 2016, Maggie Steffens, alongside international superstar goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson, Team USA is stacked and welcoming back nine returners from Rio in the training group. Two-time gold medalist Melissa Seidemann is a two-way threat and a part of a versatile group that includes fellow Olympic champions Rachel Fattal, Kiley Neushul, Maddie Musselman and sisters Makenzie and Aria Fischer.

The U.S. men have circled Lima as a key qualification opportunity. It will be their second chance to earn a spot to Tokyo after the world championship, also in July. One of the youngest teams in the world, the U.S. men look to build off recent medals in FINA Intercontinental Tournament action. Veteran Jesse Smith is in the hunt for a USA Water Polo record-tying fifth Olympic Games in 2020 and is bolstered by Rio Olympians Alex Bowen, Alex Obert and Luca Cupido alongside gifted playmakers like Johnny Hooper and Hannes Daube. To qualify for Tokyo 2020 in Lima, the team will need to finish the tournament as the top team still vying for an Olympic berth. 

While the pressure is now off the U.S. women to qualify, they still have a title to defend in an event that most replicates the experience of an Olympic Games. For the U.S. men, they have their hopes set on surprising many in Tokyo, but the first step remains: earning a spot.