With the 19th FINA World Championships in Hungary looming, nations are preparing teams the best they can in these Covid-19 days and grabbing every opportunity to play international matches.

Some European FINA World League matches have been in turmoil because of the pandemic, but for non-European nations, the FINA World League Intercontinental Cup qualification tournament was staged during the past fortnight in Lima, Peru with some interesting results — none more so that multi-champion USA women suffering defeats at the hands of Canada and Australia.

In the men’s tournament, the USA proved the best team in the competition, turning around a one-goal loss to the Aussie Sharks in the round-robin to survive the final 7-6 against the same opponent. That success can be firmly attributed to goalkeeper-of-the-tournament Drew Holland, who made 11 saves in the final after a brilliant 14 pull-downs in the 10-9 semifinal victory over Canada. He also stood in as captain for the event.

His command of the defense and agility in goal definitely sent the USA to the top of the dais.

We asked Drew — soon to have his 27th birthday — about how the young athletes and veterans came together in Lima:

“I am very excited about taking first place in Lima; it is an awesome start to the year for us. It was a great chance to get experience for our younger players, and I thought we gelled very well. We have a very talented younger group and I'm super excited about their potential. I am also excited to get back together with (Ben) Hallock, (Alex) Bowen, (Max) Irving, and other team-mates who were not able to play in Lima.”

How do you think the team is going to rebuild after Tokyo, looking ahead to Budapest this northern summer?

“This past summer, taking sixth in Tokyo and second in the World League (Super Final) in Georgia, gave us a lot of confidence and showed that we can play with anyone in the world. I think we have the pieces in place, and now the confidence, to have a great tournament in Budapest. In general, we have a young team and the experience we gained from the pressure of the Olympic Games will help us as we head to Budapest.”

Receiving his Goalkeeper of the Tournament award in Lima from Olympic goalkeeper and FINA TWPC Member Don Cameron (AUS)

What are some of the biggest things you learned in the lead-up to Tokyo and during the Olympic Games?

“I think maybe the most important thing about being a goalkeeper is dealing with pressure and maintaining your confidence through that pressure. This past summer in the lead-up to Tokyo, with our showing in the World League, helped a lot with that. Also, last summer and during Tokyo, I developed a routine-sleep schedule, breakfast, stretching, warm-up and, of course, coffee; that works for me on big-game days. I will definitely continue that in Budapest. Also, World Championships and Olympics are long tournaments and it takes some experience to keep sharp, and build through the whole two-week period. That was one of the big things we learned in Tokyo, that we need to build through the tournament and be playing our best water polo at the best time.”

How has your pro club experience with Chios helped improve your game?

“Playing professionally in Greece the last few years has really helped improve my game. As a goalie, getting more used to the European style of play, and seeing European shooters with different kinds of fakes and shots has helped so much. Also, it helps so much with game experience. European professional leagues offer many more high-level games to play than I could get in the USA. I definitely plan to continue playing in Europe.

The four-time All American from Stanford University also played the 2018-19 season with Caballa in Spain, so will be bringing all that experience to Hungary in mid-June.

NB: Thanks to USA Water Polo Media Director Greg Mescall for assistance with this story.