Greece a familiar opponent for USA Water Polo’s Hannes Daube and Max Irving
TOKYO – When U.S. water polo players Hannes Daube and Max Irving jumped into the Tokyo pool on Monday morning, they had a quasi-familiar feeling. USA was facing Greece in the final game of round-robin at the Tatsumi Water Polo Centre. Two months ago, both men were being coached by Greece’s head coach Theodoros Vlachos. Two months ago, their teammates included several Greek Olympic players.
Both had spent the COVID-plagued season playing for Olympiacos, a professional Greek team. Daube, the 21-year-old from USC, played for free to remain NCAA eligible, but Irving was already a few years into his pro career after graduating from UCLA.
“Of course, I know some of their tendencies and they know some of mine,” Daube said of his Greek opponents before the game. “Greece loves passing the ball, moving the ball, catch and shoot.”
In contrast, Daube said, “We play a different game. We have a lot of individual payers that are really creative and skilled so we can attack the weaker links with multiple guys. We try to take advantage of the weaknesses with our big bodies and strengths.”
While Daube was in Greece, the 6-foot-5½ driver gained 20 pounds of muscle – hitting 242 lbs. at one point.
In the end, Greece held Daube scoreless in five attempts. Irving scored once, early in the third quarter, to bring the US within two goals – the closest it would ever get. STANFORD's Alex Bowen also contributed a point. When time expired, Greece had routed the US, 14-5, thanks, in part, to five goals by Greek driver Kostas Genidounias who won three NCAA titles at USC in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
Greece now ends group play undefeated as it seeks its first medal in Olympic water polo. Monday’s loss left the U.S. with a 2-3 win-loss record, but didn’t affect its ranking in the group. Both teams will advance to the quarterfinals on Wednesday. As the lowest-ranked qualifier from Group A, the U.S. will play the team with the best record in Group B: either Spain or Croatia.
After Monday’s match, a stoic and tired-looking Daube said Greece presented “no surprises. We didn’t get into our rhythm” and said the loss was less of a Greek victory than a product of “our mistakes.”
Looking ahead, the youngest man on the U.S. team said, “We go back to practice.”
Irving was also undemonstrative as he passed through the socially-distanced media zone. He paused by a fence six feet away from reporters while a volunteer held up a brown lunch tray with one recorder on it – a broken one, as it turned out.
“I think they got off to a good start,” Irving said. “They played the way we thought.”