For Drew Hoffenberg, competing for the U.S. Junior National water polo team during his high school years hastened his development as a player.
“It’s a lot of fun; you are playing with the best guys in your age group,” said Hoffenberg. “It is the best way to get better. It is a lot of fun. You are making a lot of new friends. It is a small community and you stay in touch with these guys.”
This week, the rising junior Princeton University star is playing with another national team as he competes for the U.S. squad at the 19th World Maccabiah Games in Israel.
Hoffenberg, a native of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., didn’t have to go far from home to punch his ticket for Israel.
“The tryout was here in San Diego in December; it was a 3-day tryout,” said Hoffenberg.
“There were 35-40 people. There are some players on the team who were playing overseas. As the days went on, I got more and more confident. I was playing well and I thought I had a good chance of making the team.”
Hoffenberg’s confidence was justified as he ended up making the roster of 14 for the competition which will take place from July 18-30 and draw more than 7,000 athletes representing 60 countries.
“I found out about two weeks after,” said Hoffenberg. “I was excited. I was ready to go to Israel. We have some really talented guys on the team. I know a lot of the kids. It is a great group.”
Coming east to Princeton has been a great move for Hoffenberg. “I never came to Princeton for an official visit, I did make an unofficial visit as a junior,” said Hoffenberg, who considered such west coast water polo powers as UCLA, USC, and Stanford in his college recruiting process.
“Billy Tifft [recently graduated Princeton star] was one of my high school teammates and he clued me into what the team is about. It is a balance of academics and athletics. You can’t beat the education and it is always one of the top water polo teams in the east.”
Hoffenberg quickly emerged as one of the top players on the Tiger squad, tallying 47 goals and 36 assists as a freshman, earning second-team All-South and All-America honorable mention honors in the regular season and then being named the Most Valuable Player of the Eastern Tournament.
“I kept getting better as the season went on,” said Hoffenberg, in assessing his debut campaign. “I was training with better competition and I got more comfortable with the team.”
As a sophomore, Hoffenberg was even better, scoring a team-leading 63 goals for eighth-best in a single season in program history, while adding 65 steals and 33 assists.
“I was more comfortable with the team,” said Hoffenberg, who now has 110 goals, the eighth-best career total for the Tigers.
“I was more vocal and more of a leader. As a freshman, it is hard to tell people what to do. Once I knew the team, I felt more free to communicate. I played a little better. I played a different role. As a freshman, I was more of a facilitator. I played more at the 21 this season; I had more of a scoring role.”
In his junior season, Hoffenberg will be assuming more of a leadership role as he has been named a team co-captain.
“It shows that my teammates and coaches trust me and think I am an intelligent player,” said Hoffenberg, reflecting on being named captain.
Hoffenberg and his Maccabiah teammates have developed trust in preparing for the competition.
“We had a training camp in San Diego,” said Hoffenberg. “We did training in the morning and scrimmages in the afternoon. We played two games on the weekend. In the past, there was a wide age gap because it is an open team. The age range for this team is 19-25. We have four college kids and a bunch of guys who just graduated from college or have been out for a year or two. We are on the same level; we have the same mentality. It helped us bond. Any time you are together 6½ to 8 hours a day, you are going to talk to each other.”
In Hoffenberg’s view, those bonds will deepen when the team is in Israel. “We are going to be based in Tel Aviv,” said Hoffenberg, who will be joined in Israel by Princeton hockey player Andrew Calof, a forward for the Canadian squad.
“It is going to be amazing. We train in the mornings and then do sightseeing in the afternoon. Israel is amazing, there is nothing like it We are going to get to see the Wailing Wall, the Red Sea, we are going to get VIP tours.”
With the U.S. having earned silver in the 2009 Maccabiah Games, the team is looking to take a step up the medal stand.
“We have a few guys from the 2009 team and they say this team has much more talent,” said Hoffenberg.
“We have to play as well as we can. We don’t know what the competition is like; we haven’t had a chance to scout them. We know Israel is going to be good; it is their national team. We have to focus on our game and playing well.”
Hoffenberg is focusing on providing his diversified game to the U.S. cause.
“I will be mostly a facilitator,” said Hoffenberg. “I will be on secondary attack. I am on the perimeter and look to be an all-around threat.”