globe with clouds WP Championship Women's Blog: New & Old Hand

Two players a rookie, a new hand, and a veteran, an old hand have agreed to post some of their feelings and thoughts about the 2007 World Women's Water Polo Championships. Betsey Armstrong who played in her first world championships has volunteered to represent the rookies on this years women's team and a short bio of her can be found at Tips from the Top (09) - Betsey Armstrong. Heather Petri who has played in four World Championships has volunteered to represent the veterans and a short bio of her can be found at Tips from the Top (08)- Heather Petri.

BEFORE THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

Betsy Armstrong   Betsey Armstrong - Rookie   

It’s hard to know what to expect exactly for my first World Championships experience. After spending the better part of a year with the US Team I’ve had the opportunity to play against most of the teams that will be in the tournament. There will be several new ones I have yet to face here too such as Kazakhstan, Germany, Spain, and Cuba.

Sometimes I think that it will work to my advantage that I’ve never been to a World Championship—perhaps I will actually have less to be nervous about because I can go in without the skeletons of the past—but then I realize that if I am not nervous about one thing, there is always some other thought to do the job—like our loss to Italy in the semi-final of the 2006 World Cup, or the fact that we haven’t played Hungary in almost a year.

One of the many things I’ve learned during the start of my career with this team is that not one competitor can be overlooked. No matter what history a program does or doesn’t have, anything can happen. We are often told by our coaches that we will walk away from playing the best game of our lives having only won by a single goal. It doesn’t matter if we’ve beaten a team ten times out of the last eleven matches, we need to approach every game as something new and prepare ourselves accordingly.

My teammates will be my biggest asset. Those who have been here before help the new ones—such as myself—understand how to prepare and approach such a major tournament. We are committed to our program and style of water polo just as we are committed to one another. We trust our ability and know that the last six months of work really have been for a greater purpose and we are finally here.

Ultimately I know that I am in control of myself, so getting nervous—though it will happen for scrimmages or opening games—will not hold me back. I have learned throughout my experience so far that this team is unbreakable and we will conscientiously move forward, together, preparing for one game at a time.

Heather Petri    Heather Petri - Veteran   

The pre World Championship tournament in Sydney was the first time our team has come back to the Olympic Park since the 2000 Olympic Games.  As the plane was making its decent into this amazing city, the first thought I had was….”Has it really been seven years since we were here?” It certainly doesn’t feel that way.

Walking through The Park was pure de ja vu with poignant memories popping up at every turn.  …Right there we waited to enter the stadium for opening ceremoniesThis was where the Olympic store was…Aquatic center is on the left... The Olympic Cauldron now turned into a fountain and a monument to all the 2000 medal winners stands proudly outside the Stadium where the flame once burned. Small plaques have been inlaid in the ground surrounding the Cauldron inscribed with the name of every medal winner. Smiles lit up our faces when we saw them…there we were, all thirteen names of the first United States Women’s Water Polo Olympic medallists.  It made me so proud to be a part of the program then; and to now have the opportunity to contribute to our continuing legacy almost a decade later is truly an honor.

Seven years ago I was a new face to the international scene and all of my opponents were a blur to me.  I felt like I was on a wild ride, things streaming past me, with my eyes wide open ready for each new adventure. My perspective now has changed, but the passion remains. I know the faces of my opponents.  Their names.  Their styles of play.  We have played countless games against these teams and I have played against many of them while playing professionally in Italy.  And with this knowledge comes a great sense of calm, clarity and focus. 

As a new person on the team I focused on learning our system of play, training hard and believing with all my heart that our team would come out on top.  Now, as a veteran of the game and our program, I now know WHY we are successful. Our team is made up of the most talented building blocks America has to offer and when we put them together we can (and will) beat all of our opponents. 

Our training had been different this year than the previous quadrennial.  With so many girls on the team playing their collegiate seasons, we have had limited days to train together.  Four days actually.  Coming to Australia without extended training is a testament to the talent and work ethic of the girls on the team.  We are putting it all together now in the time we have here before the Championships start. It is exciting to see the team gel and realize the potential we have when we finally do go into full time training next year.

As for Melbourne. Let the games begin.  We arrived here on the Thursday March 16. Our first practice was in the competition pool.  It is an impressive venue.  It is an outdoor pool with a massive tent-like dome erected over it to shade the pool and fans from the sun.  Stadium seating all around. It definitely has the feel of a major competition. But it is eerie when no one is around. Too quiet. I want the stands to be packed, fans screaming…..because that means one thing. It’s time to play…. 

AFTER THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

Betsy Armstrong    Betsey Armstrong - Rookie   

Now that I am home it hardly seems possible to summarize my first World Championship experience. Thinking back on loading up the vans in Los Angeles to go to the airport, the long overnight flight, and the games we played in Sydney all seem like distant memories.

The games in Sydney went well, our primary objectives were to work on playing our game, reacquainting ourselves with one another, and gathering information on our competitors. We hit a few bumps in the road—several injuries and a struggling counter attack—but we pulled through the rough patches by carefully rehabbing, regaining our focus, and always keeping our mind set towards Melbourne.

Arriving in Melbourne my nerves were jumping. We had our first practice in the competition pool and still three and a half whole days before we would play in a game. The structure of the tournament spaced each game to allow proper recovery, so we played every other day and when we won our bracket we had three whole days off.  The days seemed to drag by but after successfully beating the Netherlands, Kazakhstan, and Greece, we faced Spain in the Quarter Finals. This is when it began to count the most, now we were in single elimination games and would not have a chance to come back, even if we lost just one.

It was in the Quarter Finals that our team began to shine. After a shaky start and coming back from being down 3-1 in the first quarter, we came together confidently and fought our way back. It was playing as a team in this game that gave us the confidence in the semi-final and then again in the final. When it was our turn to face Hungary in the semi-final we knew it would be close, but staying calm and consistent we played our game collectively. After that win in overtime playing Australia in the finals was nothing but exciting. We had scrimmaged them and played them so many times, we just needed to remember what we practiced and play as a team.

Looking back on the final game and winning the gold medal our experience seems like a storybook ending—we had our ups and our downs but we overcame our weaknesses and kept our focus on the task at hand. Above all, we learned how to pull through as a team in close games—for the win. This experience at World Championships for me, and for the rest of the newcomers teaches us how to survive when it is hard and will be used to accomplish what we need to in the weeks and months to come.

Heather Petri    Heather Petri - Veteran   

It is hard to look back on a tournament when the ending is so predominant in your mind that it takes over every thing else.  We won.  WE WON!!!! We are World Champions! Right now that is all that pops into my head when you ask me about Melbourne.

To win at a major championship is what you visualize, set your goals for, and train every grueling second for. In sport you know that come game time many things can happen.  Factors that as an athlete, you cannot control.  But all of us have faith that the hard work, all the training of our mind and bodies, will help us execute at the right time. When everything does fall into place, it creates the most incredible natural high.  You forget about virtually everything that came before.

Looking back throughout the games in Melbourne we made mistakes, had lapses in defense, missed shot blocking responsibilities, missed wide open counter attack opportunities….. we were not playing perfectly.  But we were also doing many things very well.  Despite our shortcomings we were putting it together as a team to find a way to win. In the long run I feel like this was the most important thing that our team gained from this tournament.  The confidence to know that you can start a tournament, make mistakes and find a way to improve throughout a game and through the progression of the tournament. One day and one game at a time.

I will never forget sitting on the bench at one point in the middle of the game against Greece.  I started laughing out loud.  Guy turned around and asked me what the heck I was laughing at.  I was excited.  Watching our team play gave me hope for the year to come.  I feel like our team is just starting to come together and find out what our potential is.  We make mistakes.  The very next possession we execute something perfectly.  There is so much to learn as a team and areas to improve on.   I cannot wait to train with these girls for the next year and a half and see how much better we can become.