Netherlands sharpshooter Simone van de Kraats has the world at her feet and her tremendous showing at Tokyo 2020 was a forerunner to what she could be capable of in the future, especially with Budapest 2022 just around the corner.
As if being the top women’s water polo goal-scorer at the Tokyo Olympic Games wasn’t enough, Dutchwoman Simone van de Kraats wants to be even more dangerous at the upcoming Budapest FINA World Championships.
She says it’s “more fun to be more dangerous all the time so that opponents don’t know what I am going to do, and I will be ready”.
Simone, who started playing for Barneveld as a six-year-old and then her later years with the Polar Bears in her native Netherlands, is one of the two go-to players for the Dutch when it comes to bagging goals, alongside Sabrina van der Sloot.
Scoring Goals caught up with Simone before a training session with her Mataro professional team in Barcelona as she relishes the European competition ahead of World League qualifiers and then the immediate goal of Budapest 2022.
On making the switch from her homeland to Spain, Simone said: “I was playing in Holland and wanted to play the Euro League — one of the main reasons to go abroad. It’s a professional team in a good league in Europe, with full training. We do a lot of gym work and training in the pool, depending on the day. And we are superbly coached by Daniel Ballart.”
The team is in excellent hands as Ballart claimed Olympic gold in 1996 and multiple world golds and silvers in a chequered playing career that spanned four Olympic Games.
Simone (21) has plenty of years ahead in the professional game and can look forward to much success with Mataro.
“The first success came with Mataro several weeks ago when we won the Copa de la Reina from Sabadell. Who is going to win the league will be exciting! I am looking forward to the play-offs.”
She started her international career at the youth level, won silver at the FINA Women’s Junior Championships in 2019, a year after winning silver at the FINA Women’s Water Polo World League Super Final. In fact, her first senior international was against France in February of that year.
She has risen through the ranks to become a kingpin for a team that last tasted major glory at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In 2019, the team won the gold medal at the European World League finals and will again be in the mix in Tenerife, Spain later this month.
Simone would not be drawn on the specifics of the coaching changeover from Arno Havenga to Evangelos Doudesis. “They are different persons and have a different way of coaching. We are moving forward with what we have already built and we have a new team — some quit, some joined the team right now. Building in this new cycle is the road to Paris (2024).”
In the immediate future, Simone said she is looking forward to the matches. “We will take it game by game and take it very seriously. We want to play from our own strength, look at the opponents. We know what we are going to do and make sure it’s 100 per cent to play as a team with the game we want to play. We are in control of our own game and not dependent on the opponent.”
Speaking about her first Olympic experience, she said: “I think as a person after Tokyo and in the tournament itself I realised what I can do, take responsibility for the team. The most that I showed myself and feeling what I can do and where I am right now, I want to go with that development, growing as a player and a person.”
About her impressive 28 goals in Tokyo, she said: “I think it was a combination of the last season — I was feeling I was getting strong and mentally fitter and more comfortable in the water and I was recognising what I could do. It was the combination of going with the flow and fitting in with the tournament. I have things I want to improve in attack and defence, like always looking at the goal.”
The diversity of her game, whether it be taking penalty shots, counter-attacking or making full use of her left arm down the right side of the pool, she is dynamic and dangerous.
“The best thing about my play is that it’s so diverse. I like that I can play diversely in the field and be dangerous in different phases of the game. I think that right now you can see me scoring from different positions — right side, as I am a left-hander; penalty, counter-attack, one-twos. I like to develop them all. There is some space to develop to be more dangerous and more fast getting into that gap.”
She said that her team will play in Tenerife, have some practice matches with Spain and Hungary and after the first match against France in the tournament, will see what the future holds.
Simone was awesome in Tokyo, starting with two goals against Australia; followed by six in the 14-13 upset of Spain; four in the rout of South Africa; six against Canada, including a final-minute goal from past the halfway line; four in the ill-fated 11-14 quarter-final loss to Hungary; three as Netherlands beat China 13-6 in the 5-8 semifinals and another three as Australia swept her team aside 14-7 in the five-six classification.
It was a magnificent bag and halfway to the Olympic record tally in just one Olympic Games.
Her ability to find the back of the net so consistently will be a huge talisman as her team focuses on World Championship glory in June-July.