Worlds rekindle patriotism

Johan Opperman/USA Water Polo

Memories of her grandfather, who served in World War II, made Annika Dries especially proud to be representing the U.S.

While fifth place at the water polo world championships is not where we wanted to finish, our last game was a big one.

Just as we had fought Spain under the lights before losing in the quarterfinals, we battled Greece through regulation, went to overtime and won in a shootout. It was a game that represented the resilience and togetherness of our team. Having the opposition score in the final second of regulation and then score the first goal of overtime might be daunting to some, but not to our group. The experiences we gained in this game and in the tournament -- coming from behind, staying ahead, playing overtime and winning one-goal games -- will be vital for the strength of our team.

Our quarterfinal loss to Spain was tough -- really tough -- but our team was in it together the entire time. We didn't execute as well as we needed to and bring the same intensity as the home team. With 3,300 Spanish fans whistling and yelling, playing Spain in Spain is something I will never forget. You could feel the emotion of the moment. That game will fuel our team for a long time.

On a personal note, playing for the USA reached another level for me this year -- a level that I didn't quite realize until our flag was displayed and our anthem was played at the world championships.

My grandfather served in the U.S. Army at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, and I remember him showing me the picture of the boat with all the men coming back from war. They looked full of pride and joy for their country. At my grandpa's funeral this past spring, the Army presented my grandmother with a flag. The presentation was simple yet powerful. I realized then and at the world championships just how lucky I am to represent this amazing country. I also talked with my grandpa's best buddy from the war. While on a different scale of life and death, the stories of camaraderie hit a chord with the stories of the struggles and victories I share with Team USA.

Looking to the future of women's water polo, the difference in the teams is small. Everyone is good at what they do and is bringing it to the table. At this tournament, the World League champions didn't even make the top eight. Teams are changing and improving every day as we move toward the fifth Olympics ever for the sport. We are ready for the challenge of preparing for the next big moment and to be where we want to be for our country: at the top of the podium.