U.S. Olympic men’s water polo team named on heels of best result in five years

Lima 2019 Pan Am Games - Day 15
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On the heels of its best finish in five years, the U.S. Olympic men’s water polo team was named on Friday.

The 13-player squad is led by Jesse Smith, who will join Tony Azevedo (2000-2016) as the only U.S. water polo players to compete at five Olympics. At 38, Smith is the fourth oldest Olympic water player in the sport’s 121-year Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

Smith was named captain and will be joined by 2016 Olympians Alex BowenLuca CupidoBen Hallock and Alex Obert.

Six of the Olympic rookies have been with the national team since 2017 — Hannes Daube, Drew HollandJohnny HooperMax Irving,  Marko Vavic, Alex Wolf — while Dylan Woodhead played for the U.S. at two tournaments between 2018 and 2019, and Ben Stevenson was on the 2018 World Cup roster.

The team is coached by Dejan Udovicic, the famed Serbian coach who has been at the helm of the U.S. men’s program since 2013.

The U.S. has never won an Olympic gold medal in men’s water polo, while the women’s team — which was named last week — is expected to win a third straight in Tokyo.

The men’s outlook is favorable for a potential first Olympic medal in 13 years, though, after the squad took silver at the World League Super Final on Thursday.

The U.S. went 2-1 in group play in Tbilisi, Georgia, losing only to Montenegro, before taking down France in the quarterfinal and reigning world champion Italy in the semis, 10-8.

Facing Montenegro, fourth at the last three Olympics, again in the gold-medal match, the U.S. came close but lost 9-8.

The silver was the first medal at a major international tournament since 2016, when the team also took World League silver.

The last Olympic medal for the U.S. men was silver in 2008.

Serbia, Croatia and Italy have been on the last two Olympic podiums. Spain, the 2019 World silver medalist, is also a threat.

The U.S. men face South Africa, Hungary and Greece in Group A beginning July 25.

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