Water polo and Kiley Neushul were destined to find each other.
Neushul, an attacker on the U.S. women’s national team and a 2016 Olympic gold medalist, comes from a long family lineage in the sport.
That started with her grandfather, who swam and played water polo at UCLA. Both of her parents then played, as did her uncles, siblings and cousins. And on Sunday, when Neushul and Team USA began play at the FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, she did so on the same roster as younger sister Jamie Neushul.
Both Neushuls contributed to Team USA’s 24-2 rout of South Africa, with Jamie scoring six goals and Kiley three.
“My dad and his three brothers were raised in Santa Barbara and spent every year helping my grandfather with his marine biology research,” said Kiley Neushul, who grew up near Santa Barbara in Goleta, California. “My mother grew up a swimmer and water polo player, and when my parents met in college they bonded over their love for the water. They raised my two sisters and I with an ‘every day we hit the water’ mentality. I am extremely fortunate to have a robust support system in place.”
Neushul, who started playing at age 7, has specifically benefitted from the tutelage of her mother, Cathy, who is the coach at the well-known 805 Water Polo Club in Santa Barbara.
“She was my very first water polo coach,” said Kiley, who wrote to TeamUSA.org via email from Hungary, where Team USA prepared for the world championships. “My mother is an excellent teacher of base fundamentals, conditioning and technical water polo skills. She was instrumental in mine and my two sisters’ development both in and out of the pool.”
Neushul, a three-time NCAA champion at Stanford who scored 10 goals at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, is part of a Team USA squad that that is coming off a win last month at the FINA World League Super Final. Prior to that, Team USA took silver at the FINA Intercontinental Tournament in Davis, California, breaking a long string of first-place finishes for the program.
“On the national team we always say you are only as good as your next game,” she said. “We look at any loss we have as an opportunity to learn and grow as a team. We emphasize taking accountability for our mistakes so we can move on and focus on conquering our next challenge.”
The U.S. women have won the last two Olympic gold medals and the last world title, in 2015 in Russia. The Americans have held the No. 1 world ranking since 2014.
“We have a refined style of play that does not allow for shortcuts,” Neushul said. “We have upheld a standard of hard work and dedication to maintain our unique style of play. Our program introduces these values at all levels of development so every girl representing the United States, regardless of age, is expected to perform with a certain intensity and knowledge of the game that reflects our established culture.”
Neushul said every training session and game is “a tryout.”
“The competition in the United States is some of the toughest in the world,” she said. “As players, we are held to a very high standard of effort. There are no shortcuts on the journey to the national team. That mentality drives talented players in the U.S. to go above and beyond the norm.”
Neushul isn’t too concerned with the new look of the U.S. roster, which has seven returnees on it from the Rio Olympics.
“Every summer that I have participated on the national team the roster has been slightly different,” she said. “Many of our new players have been part of the U.S. pipeline for years. Our new team is fundamentally sound, but with seven new players the obvious challenge is connecting everyone in and out of the pool, which has proven seamless thus far.”
The two-time Cutino Award winner as the top women’s player in college water polo also is thrilled to have the opportunity to play with Jamie, a 2017 Stanford graduate and a four-time All-American and three-time NCAA champion with the Cardinal who also is part of the world championships roster for the U.S. as an attacker.
“While it has only been a few months, I am privileged to learn every day from her both in and out of the pool,” Kiley said. “Jamie’s water polo intelligence is so vast and she is one of the most passionate, controlled, intense players I have ever played with. It’s an honor to represent the U.S. together.”
The Neushuls and Team USA are ready to continue attacking the field at worlds, but know they must be at the top of their games.
“Budapest is an enthusiastic and energetic city, especially in regard to water polo,” Kiley said. “I am excited to play here with this new team and see what we are capable of. I am sure the competition will be at its highest. To be successful, we are going to need to fight hard and fight together.
“International competition never backs down. With every team representing their respective countries, the will to win always will be present. With this incentive comes increased emotion, physicality, crafty play, creativity and intensity. Any team can win on any given day, making preparation a key component of the international game. Because of our success, we expect to see every team on its best day.”
Mike Miazga has written about Olympic sports for nearly 25 years and is the former editor in chief of Volleyball Magazine. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.