With another gold, Krikorian keeps US water polo team on top

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              FILE - In this Friday, Aug. 19, 2016, file photo, United States' women's water polo head coach Adam Krikorian poses for photographers during the medals ceremony at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Krikorian coached the U.S. to the 2009 world title. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)
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On Adam Krikorian’s first trip as coach of the U.S. women’s water polo team, he lost his players at the airport. Brenda Villa, Heather Petri and company disappeared right after they checked in.

Krikorian was looking around when he figured out what happened. His players had retreated to the lounges reserved for more experienced travelers.

“A couple of them came out and it was like, I felt like a rookie,” Krikorian said. “I felt like I was at spring training as a baseball player as a rookie trying to just learn the little subtleties of being part of the team. So those little things are I think the things that I remember most.”

Krikorian learned his way around pretty quickly. A few weeks later, he coached the U.S. to the 2009 world title.

In some ways, the world is still trying to catch up.

Four days after his 10th anniversary as national team coach, Krikorian guided the U.S. to gold at the FINA Intercontinental Tournament for the second straight year. Playing without Maggie Steffens after the captain got hurt in the semifinals, the U.S. got two goals apiece from Stefania Haralabidis, Kiley Neushul and Kaleigh Gilchrist in a dramatic 14-12 shootout victory over rival Australia in Perth on Sunday.

Steffens, the MVP of the past two Olympics, was held out after Krikorian said she was “on the wrong end of a cheap shot” in Saturday’s 14-7 victory over Canada — something he said has been happening more and more as the U.S. piles up international titles.

“I think people look at it as an opportunity to try to intimidate or do anything they can to kind of get us off our game and obviously that hasn’t happened,” he said Monday in a phone interview.

“I mean we’re looking at probably somewhere upward of 10, 11, 12 just direct shots out of the water to our kids.”

Krikorian, 44, played at UCLA and coached the men’s and women’s teams for the Bruins before taking over the U.S. women’s program.

With Krikorian on the pool deck, the U.S. has enjoyed an unprecedented run on top of the sport. It became the first country to win two straight Olympics titles when it rolled over the field in Rio in 2016.

It currently holds every major women’s water polo championship and will be a heavy favorite to win a third straight world title in South Korea in July.

Krikorian has come a long way since that first trip.

“I think I’m calmer, No. 1, and I think that’s largely because of the perspective I have,” he said. “I don’t think my competitiveness has died down, but I realize this is not the end all to life.

“I think maybe when I first began it was, you get so caught up in winning and losing and I’ve become much more process-oriented and I have a better perspective on things.”

Tokyo will be Krikorian’s third Olympics. He said he hasn’t thought about his future beyond that point.

While he wants to make sure he is continually challenged, Krikorian also is appreciative of his current position.

“There is just nothing like being part of a team in sports,” he said. “There’s just nothing like it. There’s the passion, the energy, the camaraderie, the connection and the relationships that you build. I have a hard time imagining that there’s any profession in the world that is going to be as satisfying as what I do.”