The word of the day was excitement as 13 young women gathered together this week at the LA84 Foundation to be officially named to the USA Women’s Water Polo Team for the 2012 Olympics.
Their excitement was contagious as they sat there smiling, filling up the first row of chairs in their polo shirts with USA stitched in large letters on the back, waiting to hear their head coach, Adam Krikorian, say their name.
As Krikorian introduced each girl, something, he joked, he usually makes them do themselves, he made sure to say something uniquely special about each player that is why she, out of all the other water polo playing women in America, was chosen to be an Olympian.
After hearing their name called, the girls walked up to a small stage adorned with an American flag to receive a hug from their coach and wait to be joined by their fellow teammates. Thirteen names later, the 2012 USA Women’s Water Polo team stood unified on the stage. All but two of these girls are from California, and many of them are from southern California, where they train at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base.
Four-time returning Olympian, and the most decorated player in world of women’s water polo, Brenda Villa, is excited about getting another chance to represent her home state in the Olympics. Sometimes she forgets how spoiled she is getting to train in Los Alamitos, she said, but it all comes back to her when teams from other countries come to visit. “They’re like, ‘You guys train here? You guys live here?” Villa joked, “That’s awesome!”
Most of the girls live in Long Beach, and when they’re not working on team chemistry in the water, they work on it out of the water.
“I think we have a great mix of young players with older players,” said Villa, “The older players have experience that is of great use to us, and the young players have heart. So I think there’s great chemistry in the mix that we have of veterans and youngsters.”
For Krikorian, his journey with the team boils down to years. “2009 was about experience,” said Krikorian about the year he joined the enterprise, “It was an incredible experience.”
“The word I think of in 2010 is competition” said Krikorian, “When I look at these 13 players, really, in 2010 we started with about 60. But the one thing I wanted to do, especially as a new coach, was start over. Start with a clean slate.” Krikorian decided to create the most competitive environment possible.
“One great thing about the United States of America, is that we are all extremely competitive.” said Krikorian, “So when we have the best athletes, water polo athletes, in this country competing with each other, naturally, the best are going to rise to the top. Looking at these girls, I think it’s safe to say, the best have risen to the top.”
However, 2011 would prove testing to the team’s morale. It was in 2011 that the team received their worst finish ever in the World Championships. Finishing sixth, Krikorian said that it was then he and the girls learned how not to deal with adversity: his word for 2011.
“We didn’t handle adversity very well,” said Krikorian, “But six months later, we learned and we showed how to deal with adversity.” Krikorian describes how his girls were able to learn from their mistakes and comeback with the win at the Pan American final in, what he dubs, one of the greatest games ever.
This year, Krikorian said, “Is the year for competitive greatness.” He has split 2012 into two phases. The first phase, from January until now, was about playing games.
“It was a great opportunity for these ladies to prove what they can do with the competition,” said Krikorian.
Now, however, the teams enters the second phase: the ascent to the 2012 Olympics in London.
For team captain, Villa, encroaching on the second stage triggers a mix of emotions. “To be honest, we’re probably a little scarred,” admits Villa, “But it’s great. We’ve been traveling a lot. We’ve been playing a lot of games internationally. You don’t get to train like at home when you’re out of the country, so it’s great to be home, put in the work, and get the confidence from that so when we go back to London, we’re ready.”
Villa loves the experience of practicing at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base. “It’s kind of funny to go on to a base and show your badge and ID everyday, and there’s uniforms, but to us it’s home,” said Villa.
The whole team is looking forward to their annual July 4th game at the base. Returning second-time Olympian, Lauren Wenger, from Long Beach, enjoys playing for a home-crowd.
“Oh my gosh! Well, we don’t get the opportunity to play in front of our home crowd that often, so it’s cool to have everybody there and see us at the point where we’re ready for the Olympics,” she said.
This will be the first time that Krikorian will get to coach the July 4th game that he has attended so many times.
“They always get a great crowd,” said Krikorian, “People come for the fire works and the air show, and everybody has a good time. We hope to pack the place!”
A week from this Saturday, the team leaves for a tournament in China. For Wenger, the tournament couldn’t come soon enough.
“I mean, it’s China, we always have a great experience over there,” said Wenger, “We learn something new every time we’re there, so we’re ready to play some good games.”