Japanese water polo player makes mark

Sophomore Daisuke Takagi’s journey to becoming one of the stars on the Gannon University men’s water polo team is one that took moxie to undertake and perception to understand.

Takagi’s story began with his birth in Tokyo. He moved twice more after this, first in 1991 to the Mie Prefecture and then in 2001 to Tsukuba, which is where his family still lives today and where he began his water polo career. Takagi’s family was not unfamiliar with water polo before Takagi began playing.

His father, Hideki Takagi, played goalie for the University of Tsukuba for four years and competed for the intercollegiate water polo championship all four years. Three years after his career ended, he became the coach of the Tsukuba team.

Eventually, he became the coach of the Japan national water polo team, which competed at the 2011 FINA World Championships, and he hopes to compete for a coaching job on the Japanese Olympic water polo team in the future.

During his sixth-grade year, his father convinced him to focus on water polo over baseball and he was able to play for Daisuke Kobayashi, who Takagi considered his most influential coach.

“He taught me the fundamentals of water polo,” he said. “Like how to use my legs and the basics of the game.”

Takagi said the main reason he has stuck with the sport so long is the camaraderie he has developed.

Before coming to Gannon, Takagi joined a club water polo team sponsored by Bourbon, one of Japan’s leading food and beverage producers.

Takagi played for this team for the rest of his middle and high school careers, primarily as a substitute alongside some of the best water polo players in Japan.

His team went on to take third place at the Japan national water polo tournament, but Takagi said that the best part of playing for the team was “the free snack foods that Bourbon supplied us.”

Takagi’s decision to come to Gannon would take him over 9,000 miles before he came to reside in Erie, Pa. Takagi said he was primarily influenced by Gannon’s small size and reputation as a nationally accredited university, but that water polo was a close second in his decision.

This decision would bring Takagi into an entirely different world and separate him from his family for extended periods of time. He is only able to talk to his family once or twice a week and is only able to go home once during the school year, during Christmas break. Instead of going home for other breaks, Takagi said he typically will go home with a teammate.

Adjusting to the United States culture has taken time for him, he said. One example of this is the lack of personal space that is normally granted in Japanese culture not being as common in America, where high fives and man-hugs are a cornerstone of greeting one another.

Takagi has also had to continue to develop his knowledge of the English language, which he started learning in seventh grade but said he still struggles with from time to time. None of this has discouraged Takagi, who said he is learning to like living in the United States more with every passing day and says that the friendliness he encounters in America is pleasant.

Ever since Takagi came to the Gannon water polo team, he has been one of its brightest stars. In 2010, he ranked third on the team with 34 goals on 67 shots, while also leading the team in earned kick-outs, and finishing second in steals and third in assists. Takagi was named a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference scholar athlete, was awarded the Collegiate Water Polo Association Southern Division Rookie-of-the-Week, and selected to be one of the players on the Division II Eastern Championship All-Tournament team.

So far this year, Takagi is again one of the team leaders with 28 goals and is also one of the statistical leaders in assists and earned kick-outs. He said he feels that passing is the best skill in his repertoire, since he enjoys setting up his teammates for scores more than scoring himself.

Takagi said he is able to be successful because of his experiences with coach Don Sherman’s system and his offseason workouts and play with his club team.

While the team has had its ups and downs this year with a 5-7 record, Takagi said this could be in part due to the fact that 10 of the 15 members on the team are freshmen and sophomores and that the lack of experience is a big factor in Gannon’s recent struggles.

He said another factor in some of Gannon’s early struggles stems from too much individual play and too little team play. He said he feels that their team play is improving, however, shown in their two wins Friday and Saturday over Salem International and Penn State-Behrend.

Quick to sing the praises of a teammate, Takagi also said that sophomore Tommy Nimrod is another young player on the rise.

“He leads the team by the way he plays,” he said.

Takagi said he feels that, with the team developing chemistry and melding into a more cohesive unit, it is an obtainable goal to finish above 50 percent. He said he wants to contribute most by continuing to be a facilitator.

With a “continued commitment to hard work and team,” Takagi said that Gannon water polo has a bright future and with leaders like him, there is no telling how successful this team can be.

NIKLAUS KIRSCHNER

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