US water polo players splash down in Brooklyn Heights

US water polo players splash down in Brooklyn Heights
Photo by James Chang

Aspiring Olympians in Brooklyn Heights got a chance to meet some of their heroes when members of the gold medal-winning United States women’s water polo team visited St. Francis College on Sept. 26.

Kami Craig, Kaleigh Gilchrist, Ashleigh Johnson, and Courtney Mathewson — members of the team that secured back-to-back Olympic titles by virtue of a 12–5 win over Italy in Rio this summer — spoke at the campus about realizing their dreams and said they say a little of themselves in the kids assembled before them.

“One thing that’s really cool seeing you all here jumping into the pool [and] playing water polo is that we were some of your ages — 6, 7, 8, 9 — when we started playing,” Craig said. “That’s when the [Olympic] dream started for most of us.”

The group won gold for its performance in the water, but it added a bit of fire to local athletes’ dreams of an Olympic future.

Eleven-year-old polo player and surfer Aaron Gershkovich was thrilled to meet Gilchrist, who is also one of the country’s top female surfers, and talk with her about the possibility of competing at the highest level in two sports.

“My teammates call me crazy but I’ll surf between double days. I would get up early before practice. Surf, practice, surf, practice was my routine,” said Gilchrist, who may forgo polo at the 2020 Tokyo Games in order to compete for surfing gold.

Team USA may be just weeks removed from winning gold in Rio, but the squad is already setting its sights on Tokyo. The women will contend for a third-straight gold medal — a feat last accomplished by the Hungarian men’s team.

It’s been an emotional few months for the group — which dealt with the death of coach Adam Krikorian’s brother Blake just before the Rio games started — but for a few hours in Brooklyn Heights, Team USA knew it was all worth it. The response from the fans, and more importantly from the young athletes, made it all worth it.

“A lot of people asked us: ‘Did you win for Blake? Did you win for Adam?’ ” Matthewson said. “We wanted to win for Adam, we wanted to win for Blake, but we also wanted to win for everyone else that’s ever supported us.”

Seeing stars: Aaron Gershkovich, 11, met Team USA star Kaleigh Gilchrist at St. Francis on Sept. 26, when members of the gold medal-winning squad talked with Brooklyn athletes about their Olympic experiences.
Photo by James Chang