Local legend Tony Azevedo carried the banner for Long Beach as part of the USA Men’s National Team for nearly two decades. Now it’s time for the next generation to put their name in the history books and continue the unrivaled Long Beach water polo tradition at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Azevedo played in a record five consecutive Olympic games from 2000-2016. This year, Long Beach natives Max Irving and Hannes Daube will make their Olympic debuts in Japan.
“It’s awesome to have guys from Long Beach here representing the city and the next generation,” Irving said. “I think we’re the only members of the team who are kind of from the same city or town. It’s very unique and a testament to the rich aquatic tradition that we have in Long Beach.”
Just like Azevedo, Irving and Daube developed in the Shore Aquatics club program before going to Pac-12 Conference universities and then learning how to survive the professional water polo leagues of Europe.
“I’ve had the fortune to see these two young men grow in water polo since they were 10,” said Shore Aquatics Director Chi Kredell, who was also an Olympian. “Both of them had dreams of being the best and have become just that. They are an inspiration for the Long Beach aquatic community. The 200 kids currently at Shore will be sitting on the edges of their seats rooting for their club teams’ alums and hoping that Hannes and Max come home with the Gold.”
Irving and Daube aren’t the only Long Beach representatives who are part of the USA Men’s National Team, because Long Beach State coach Gavin Arroyo is an assistant coach. Arroyo was a member of the 1996 and 2000 American Olympic squads and was inducted into the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame last year.
“My (LBSU coaching) predecessors Ricardo Azevedo and Ken Lindgren have all done this path, so I feel like if I’m not involved, I’m dropping the ball to some extent,” Arroyo said. “Obviously it gives me a huge sense of pride. (LBSU men’s volleyball coach Alan Knipe) and I joke that we really need to rebrand ourselves as Olympics U. The Long Beach State volleyball, water polo and other Olympic sports have had a huge presence at every Olympic games.”
“He knows how it is to be a player, and when things get difficult or frustrating youcan go talk to him and he can calm you down,” Daube said. “He’s really helpful and very understanding.”
Daube transitioned from soccer to water polo while growing up in Long Beach, and said his goals were set out before him at a young age.
“I’m from Long Beach so I’ve been training for this ever since I started playing water polo when I was 8,” Daube said of being an Olympian. “There’s a lot of tradition with Shore Aquatics. They’ve all been rooting for me to get as far as I can and make the Olympics.”
Irving and Daube have a lot more in common other than learning to play the game with Shore and spending weekends shooting on portable goals in the Naples canals.
Daube is a skilled attacker who attended Orange Lutheran High, where he was named an All-American after leading the Lancers to a CIF Southern Section championship. He was also an All-American and won an NCAA championship at USC.
Irving is a strong defender who attended Wilson High, where he was also an All-American and CIF champion. He also won a national championship as an All-American at UCLA.
Both Irving and Daube have been fixtures in the USA starting lineup for the last few years thanks in large part to their time together with the world-renowned club Olympiacos in Greece. They even lived in the same apartment complex in Piraeus.
“We’d carpool every day to practice and we were constantly getting dinner together and trying to visit cool places in Greece,” Daube said. “I basically spent seven straight months with Max. We obviously have a lot in common. We constantly talk about representing Long Beach and where we started from. We think Long Beach is a great area to grow up in because it has a little bit of everything going on. We love it.”
“That was a great period for us to grow together as people especially being the only two foreign players on that team,” Irving said. “We had to come together and work together because we knew the things we were capable of doing. There was definitely a sense that we kind of had to prove ourselves to the group. We knew
that if we played to each other’s strengths we could help each other out a lot and help our team.”
Arroyo also played for Olympiacos and knows how important that experience can be for a young American water polo player.
“The pressure on European club teams is different than what we’re used to,” Arroyo said. “If you lose, it’s the foreigners’ fault. If you play bad, the press is lighting you up. It’s pro sports pressure. That add-
ed pressure week to week is something that really helped them grow as players.”
Irving added that coming up as a young water polo player in Long Beach has been a source of motivation throughout his career.
“Growing up with players to look up to is really big,” Irving said. “When you have role models like that who are like you, went to the same school and grew up in the same place you grew up I think it’s more of an obtainable goal. It helps give you confidence that it’s possible. You know you’re in the right spot with a great legacy. For me to be able to add to that legacy and be a part of the rich aquatic tradition that Long Beach is known for is just so special.”
Team USA has been training in Oahu, Hawaii, for the last week before traveling to Tokyo. They will compete in a group with Japan, South Africa, Italy, Hungary and Greece before the knockout rounds.
“These are all teams we can compete with and teams we can beat,” Irving said. “We’re just going to have to do things one step at a time.”
Irving will play on the right side of the USA defense where he will try to stop some of the best attackers in the world, while Daube will use his 6’4” 225-pound frame and long arms to try and create
open shots on offense.
“He’s extremely special,” Arroyo said of Daube. “I was hanging out with the Serbian National Team coach because we’re old teammates, and he just kept raving about Hannes. And it’s hard to get European respect. He’s got international respect already and he’s only 21. He’s matching up against guys who are 33, hairy chest, chain-smoking killers. He’s not only holding his own, he’s excelling.”
Team USA starts the Olympic tournament in Tokyo against host Japan on Saturday, July 24.
There are also two more Long Beach representatives who are part of the USA Water Polo contingent. Long Beach City College coach Chris Oeding is on the USA Women’s National Team coaching staff, and Long Beach State alum Guy Baker is the current Director Of Olympic Development for USA Water Polo.
“Long Beach has a rich aquatic history and was part of my development in becoming a national team athlete,” Oeding said. “Being involved in the community for over 30 years it brings me joy to represent not only the USA, but Long Beach in particular.”