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1. Maddie Musselman (USA)
US National Player | Clubs: UCLA | Position: Left DriverThe best player in the most important tournament, she scored 18 goals en route to leading Team USA to winning its third-consecutive Olympic gold medal. If there were ever a year where a lack of a club season (she took two years off from UCLA to prepare for the Olympics) shouldn’t be held against an athlete, this is it.
2. Beatriz Ortiz (ESP)
Spanish National Player | Clubs: CN Sabadell | Position: Right DriverMatching Musselman and Steffens with 18 goals, Ortiz paired with Anna Espar to lift Spain back onto the Olympic podium after a disappointing result in Rio four years ago. The only blemish on Ortiz’s performance was that she, like most of her teammates, was shut down in the gold medal match by the Americans
3. Maggie Steffens (USA)
US National Player | Clubs: CN Sabadell | Position: Right DriverIn her 3rd Olympic Games, Steffens won her 3rd medal and continued to make her case as the greatest to ever play the game. Besides being the captain of the winning American side, and tying with the second-most goals at 18, Steffens was efficient: she made 56.3% of her shots. Steffens was at her best in the gold medal match, where she was seemingly everywhere, with a steal, a rebound, and 2 blocks to goal with a live-action goal.
4. Rebecca Parkes (HUN)
Hungarian National Player | Club: Ethnikos | Position: Centre-forwardParkes was a stud for both nation and club in 2021. Part of the all-tournament team at the Olympics, she scored 3 goals in Hungary’s 10-9 preliminary round win over the United States, which was Team USA’s only blemish in the tournament. Playing for her UVSE Hunguest Hotel club in the Euro League, she led her team to bronze she scored some crucial goals at crucial minutes. She also blossomed into one of the better two-way players at centre forward in the world, and her 3 goals out of set was the difference-maker against the Americans (and, on head-to-head, the reason I’ve got her one spot ahead of Johnson).
5. Ashleigh Johnson (USA)
US National Player | Clubs: Ethnikos | Position: GoalkeeperJohnson continued to be the world’s best goalkeeper in 2021, a ranking that doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon. She saved more shots in the Olympics than anybody else (80, the next closest was 51); saved at a higher rate than any other full-time starter (64.5%), where most goalies were somewhere south of 43%; and even finished 6th in steals – a rare ranking for a goalie. Even in the loss to Hungary, she was still very good, with the exception of the U.S. not having an answer for Parkes at two meters.
1. Filip Filipovic (SRB)
Serbian National Player | Clubs: Szolnok / Olympiacos | Position: Right DriverEven at 34, Filipovic was still a dominant force both for nation and club in 2021. Rightfully named the Olympic MVP, Filipovic scored 16 goals, had 10 blocks, and also had 10 rebounds for Serbia at the Olympics. He also carried his nation’s flag at the opening ceremonies, becoming the 26th water polo player in history to carry that honor. As he goes out on a high note in his last tournament for his nation, he will now join one of Europe’s top clubs, Olympiacos, next season. His impact was already felt in one year with Hungarian side Szolnok, which he helped lead to its first Hungarian title in 5 seasons by leading the league in ‘live action’ goals. Now he’s headed to Olympiacos, where he’ll chase European glory – something he hasn’t tasted since 2015 when he played for Italian side Pro Recco.
2. Stylianos Argyropoulos (GRE)
Greece National Player | Clubs: Olyimpiacos / VK Jug Dubrovnik | Position: Center-BackHe led Greece to their first-ever Olympic medal in men’s water polo – one a long time coming given their success at the club level. Still, it was somewhat of a surprise after finishing just 7th at the 2020 European Championships, and needing a last-chance qualifier to even make the tournament. In the Champions League 7th-place game, where Olympiacos beat Marseille to end on a high note, two early goals set a tone for his club side.
3. Aleksandar Ivovic (MNE)
Montenegrin National Player | Clubs: Pro Recco | Position: Center-BackIvovic was easily the tournament’s leading scorer with 23 goals, and that was without even the benefit of stacking up goals against South Africa. While the overall team finish, losing a penalty shootout for 8th place, wasn’t what Montenegro was hoping for, that was not for any wont of effort by Ivovic: he scored 6 goals in the 7th-place game against Italy. He was another member of that Pro Recco side that won the Champions League without Filipovic.
4. Branislav Mitrovic (SRB)
Serbian National Player | Clubs: Vasas | Position: GoalkeeperMitrovic had the most saves, and tied for the best save percentage (with Greece’s Zerdevas in both categories) among regular starters at the Olympic Games. He also led a Serbian team that held Greece to just 5/14 in the gold medal match on extra player situations. While his Vasas side couldn’t advance to the top 4 of the Hungarian league, that was no fault of his: his 62% save percentage in 20 matches outpaced most of the league.
5. Dusan Mandic (SRB)
Serbian National Player | Clubs: Pro Recco / Novi Beograd | Position: Right DriverThe future of the Serbian team, Mandic scored 17 goals at the Olympics, and also led Pro Recco to the Champions League title without his countrymate Filipovic. All roads lead back to Filipovic, as still the star around which the water polo world so often orbits.
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