Kiley Neushul's retirement leaves hole on US water polo team

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FILE - In this Sunday, May 22, 2016 file photo, United States attacker Kiley Neushul passes the ball during a women's exhibition water polo match against Australia in Los Angeles. Kiley Neushul had a plan. She was going to play for the U.S. women's water polo team in the Tokyo Olympics, and then move to Italy. Then the games were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Neushul one of the best players in the world had to make a decision. She chose the rest of her life. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. – Kiley Neushul had a plan. She was going to play for the U.S. women's water polo team in the Tokyo Olympics, and then move to Italy.

Then the games were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Neushul — one of the best players in the world — had to make a decision.

She chose the rest of her life.

“I don’t know if I would have been in the right headspace to continue on,” Neushul told The Associated Press on Wednesday in her first public comments since her decision. “I think, you know, I’m working full time for a company now. I'm studying full time. So I’m able to pursue other things that I’ve always been interested in. And I think for me personally, I’m in a good place. And that’s what matters.”

While Neushul is moving on, her absence creates a giant hole in the lineup for a powerhouse U.S. team going for a third consecutive gold medal this summer. Known for her efficient movement in the water and her clutch play in several big games, Neushul was a key performer for the U.S. on each side of the pool.

“She’s an incredible athlete,” said Melissa Seidemann, who also played with Neushul at Stanford. “She’s an incredibly gifted teammate. And it’s definitely been an adjustment, I think, in a lot of ways. But, you know, we’re all happy for her to make that decision that (makes) her life better. I think we still feel her presence, so that’s important.”

Asked how he plans to replace Neushul, U.S. coach Adam Krikorian said: “It's impossible.”

“She's one of the best players ever to play the game, and we don't have anyone like her," he said.