With Princeton’s Hoffenberg Filling Playmaking Role, Team USA Water Polo Takes Gold at Maccabiah Games
Drew Hoffenberg knew that Team USA had plenty of talent but he wasn’t sure how the squad would stack up against the competition on the eve of starting play in the Maccabiah Games in Israel.
“Before the first game, we didn’t really know how good the other teams were,” said Hoffenberg, a rising junior star for the Princeton University men’s squad.
“We had some days of common training with Italy and Hungary so we got to scrimmage and go up and down the pool with them. We didn’t know about Brazil and Israel.”
By routing Italy 30-2 on July 19 to start the men’s open competition, the U.S. team proved it was very good.
“From that moment, the others were scared and intimidated by us,” said Hoffenberg. “We were the team to beat.”
Nobody beat Team USA as the squad went 5-0 in round-robin play and then topped Israel 9-3 in the gold medal game.
In reflecting on his role for the triumphant squad, Hoffenberg said he tried to be more of a playmaker than a scorer.
“I was more of a facilitator,” said attacker Hoffenberg, a native of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. who has piled up 110 goals and 69 assists in his first two seasons with Princeton in earning All-America Honorable Mention honors both years.
“We had two two-meter guys who were about 6’5, 240 and nobody was able to deal with them, they were scoring five or six goals a game. We wanted to try to get the ball to them as much as possible. We also worked on ball movement and passing when teams sagged on them.”
The team had to work hard to get up to speed as it had only played together in a week-long training camp in San Diego this June prior to leaving for Israel.
“We only had two hours every morning,” recalled Hoffenberg. “We had to swim to get in shape and since we had never played together, we had to work on our plays. It definitely helped us to get to know each other better. We were able to work on little things, knowing where guys like the ball and things like that.
The players got to know Israel when they weren’t in the pool. “The Maccabiah USA had an Israel Connect program,” said Hoffenberg.
“We would practice from 6-8 a.m. and then we would get on a bus and see the country. We saw Masada, the Dead Sea, and the Wailing Wall. The sights were all awesome, there is so much history there.”
The U.S. players also felt a lot of support from the Israeli people. “Everyone loved the Maccabiah Games athletes, they were always coming up and taking pictures with us,” said Hoffenberg. “We got to hang out in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”
Defending gold medalist Israel proved to be the main obstacle for the U.S. In round-robin play, the U.S. prevailed 16-6 before meeting up again with the hosts in the gold medal game.
“Israel had beaten Great Britain 22-0 in their first game so we were worried about them,” said Hoffenberg. “We were able to beat them by 10 goals so that gave us confidence.”
Despite bringing that confidence into the rematch, Team USA was not taking anything for granted.
“We knew they were a good team; 10 goals sounds like a lot but the first game felt closer,” said Hoffenberg.
“It was more like a 4-goal game for most of it. We knew they would have more fans for the final and that they would be more psyched. We still had to be prepared.”
The gold medal match was close at the start before the U.S. broke open the contest.
“The game got off to a slow start, I think it was 1-1 after the first quarter,” recalled Hoffenberg.
“We had a 5-0 run and we just took off. Our goalie played great, you are not going to lose too many games when you give up only three goals.”
The close-knit United States team reveled in the victory. “It was really fun; we threw the coach into the pool,” said Hoffenberg.
“It was a really great group of guys. It meant a lot; it was the first big national tournament I have ever won. It was awesome. Everyone was close in age and everyone got along. There was no bickering, everyone was willing to make the extra pass and talk to each other in the water.”
Hoffenberg will be bringing a extra level of conditioning and confidence when he returns to Princeton later this month to start preseason training with the Tigers.
“I know that I will have an advantage over the other guys at the start, I won’t have to worry as much about fitness,” said Hoffenberg, who will be serving as a captain of the Tigers. “I can talk to the coaches about strategy.”
In Hoffenberg’s view, Princeton should be a force in tournament play this fall.
“The team should be really good, we are bringing in four freshmen who are good,” added Hoffenberg. “It should be fun. You never know in the east, there are always four or five good teams. As long as we are in the mix, we have a chance.”