U.S. Olympic women's water polo team has plenty of depth

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

LOS ANGELES -- Twelve years ago, Heather Petri heard her name announced as a member of the inaugural U.S. women's Olympic water polo team. On Thursday afternoon at the Los Angeles headquarters of the LA84 Foundation, Petri, now 33, heard her name announced for the fourth consecutive time, making her one of two women on the 2012 squad who is heading to London to compete in her fourth-straight Olympic Games.

"The excitement of finding out hasn't worn off," Petri said. "I still get butterflies. I still felt giddy when Coach [Adam Krikorian] told me I'd made the team. I don't ever want to lose that feeling."

Before the Olympic team announcement, LA84 Foundation President and IOC member Anita DeFrantz spoke about her own experience finding out she made the 1976 Olympic rowing team.

"It was so barbaric back then," she said. "They wrote our names on a piece of paper that was tacked to the boathouse. Then we had to select someone willing to go and read the names. This is way cool. It's an honor to look in the eyes of the members of the water polo team as you wear your uniforms for the first time. That's a big deal."

DeFrantz then introduced head coach Krikorian, who took over the program in 2009, less than a year after the team's silver-medal performance in Beijing. He spoke about the emotional week that preceded the announcement and how hard it was to cut the team from 17 to 13. Then he announced each team member's name and asked the women to join him on stage. On the team are eight returning Olympians and three current college students. Petri is the oldest member of the team, while 18-year-old defender Maggie Steffens, sister of defender Jessica Steffens, is the youngest.

"We have such a good blend of young energy and experienced team members who know what the next two months will bring," said Petri, who plans to retire from competitive water polo, along with four-time Olympian Brenda Villa, after London. "In 2000, I didn't understand what I was getting into and the year just flew by me. Now I can soak it all in, take joy in the smallest things and pass along my knowledge to the younger members of the team."

Over the past three years, the U.S. women's team competed in seven major international tournaments and won six of them. The one blemish on its otherwise perfect recent résumé is a sixth-place finish at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai, which accounts for its current ranking of sixth in the world. "Realistically, I'd say we're more like second or third in the world," Krikorian said. "Australia has proven to have the best competitive record, but Russia and Italy are up there, too."

This year, international competition is so stiff that neither the Netherlands (the 2008 Olympic gold medalists) nor Greece (the team currently ranked No. 1 in the world) qualified for London.

"In the past, it would be easy to target one or two teams as our biggest competition," Krikorian said. "But this year, any one of those eight teams could win. We are the best defensive team in the world. And when we're in sync, we're very tough to beat."

The U.S. team also has as much depth at each position as it ever has.

"With most teams, it's easy to pick out the few superstars and prepare for them," Krikorian said. "You can't do that with us. We are very hard to prepare for because we have 13 women they need to prepare for, every game."

And now, their country knows their names.