By Barry Punzal
Noozhawk Sports Editor
Kami Craig ended her career with the U.S. women’s water polo team at the place where her career began to flourish.
Craig, who grew up in the Santa Ynez Valley before she attended Santa Barbara High School, celebrated her retirement from the national team at her alma mater when Team USA took on the Netherlands in an exhibition game on Saturday, Dec. 16.
Craig wrapped up her 13-year career with the national team as one of the most dominant centers the international game has ever seen. The Santa Ynez Valley native was a key force in the emergence of Team USA as a superpower in the world of women’s water polo.
She is a three-time Olympic medalist (silver in 2008 and golds in 2012 and 2016) and a three-time world champion.
“It is nearly impossible to put into words what it has meant to me to be a part of the women’s senior national team over the last 13 years,” Craig told USA Water Polo. “To have the opportunity to represent my country, the USA, playing the sport I love, and competing with a group of individuals who share the same passion and fire will be a time in my life I will forever cherish.”
Fresh off a FINA World Championship in 2007, Craig was the youngest member of Team USA at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. A reserve center in her first Olympics, she helped the Americans to a silver medal. She took over as the starting center in 2009 and the U.S. won a second consecutive world championship.
As her National Team career took off, Craig established herself as the top player in the college game. She was twice named the recipient of the Cutino Award as the player of the year and led USC to an NCAA crown in 2010.
At Santa Barbara High, she was part of CIF-SS championship teams in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and was named CIF Player of the Year in 2005.
“Kami will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, center to have ever played this game,” Team USA coach Adam Krikorian said. “Her combination of strength, explosiveness, and skill were a nightmare for our opponents to deal with, not to mention for our very own defenders on a daily basis. We knew we could always count on Kami. Every game, every possession. Her consistency provided us with some comfort and confidence to be able to play freely and was a byproduct of the professionalism she carried throughout her entire career, spanning a remarkable three separate quadrennials.
“Behind the scenes, she worked hard to build relationships and make connections with and between people that helped us become the strongest team in the world. She held us all accountable, staff included, for doing things with a purpose, striving to be better daily, being more open and honest with each other, and quite simply, doing things the right way.”
“While winning has always been a huge motivation for me, it has been the time I spent training with my teammates that made showing up to the pool day in and day out not only possible, but enjoyable,” said the daughter of Steven and Dale Craig. “I am forever grateful for the laughs, tears and experiences I shared with my teammates. My teammates and coaches are like family – we share this unbreakable bond that will last a lifetime.
“I would like to thank the many incredible people who have loved and supported me throughout this journey. Besides my coaches and teammates, I would like to thank the fans who brought such joy and positive energy to the pool deck and cheered on the team from their living rooms when they couldn’t make it to the games. Lastly, I would especially like to thank my parents, who sacrificed everything to make my dream of being an Olympic water polo player a reality.”
Kami Craig’s Career Highlights:
2x Olympic Gold Medalist (2012, 2016)
1x Olympic Silver Medalist (2008)
3x FINA World Champion (2007, 2009, 2015)
2x FINA World Cup Gold Medalist (2010, 2014)
9x FINA World League Super Final Gold Medalist (2006-2007, 2009-2012, 2014-2016)
3x Pan American Games Gold Medalist (2007, 2011, 2015)
1x NCAA Champion (USC) (2010)
2x Cutino Award Recipient (USC) (2009, 2010)
Pac-12 All-Century Team Selection