U.S. water polo team literally fighting to win

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Annika Dries will be blogging for espnW throughout her training for this summer's London Olympics. Check back in March for more from Annika on the journey.

If you've ever heard anything about water polo, you've probably heard that under the water it's "dirty." And yes, it really is. We are constantly fighting above and under the water to hold the best position. And by fighting, I mean actual fighting -- we use our arms, core, and legs to try to get the ball and score. At the international level, anything goes. If you happen to kick someone during a move or play, chances are it won't be called. And whatever the ref doesn't see goes.

On the U.S. national water polo team, I'm a center -- one of the most physically demanding positions. You need to play strong and big and be mentally tough. We battle for position in front of the cage, and try to score the ball as the defenders grab our suits and push us underwater.

Of course, to do this, you need very strong legs. We do not touch the bottom of the pool, ever. We could probably survive in a deep body of water for months. (I actually joke that I feel more comfortable egg beatering than walking.) We use our legs to push each other around, to raise our upper bodies several feet above the water, and then to shoot, pass and block the ball from all the way up there.

How do we get strong enough legs to allow us to defy physics (and look awesome, too)? Training. Lots of it. Our schedule includes two practices a day in the pool along with three weightlifting sessions a week. It's a total of at least 30 hours of training a week.

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Annika Dries, who played collegiately at Stanford, has joked that she is more comfortable in the water than on land.

We are also always competing and traveling to other countries to raise our level of play and keep us in top game condition. Our most recent big trip was to the Pan American Games last fall, where we won gold and qualified for the Olympics. On the way, we defeated Argentina, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Brazil. We faced Canada, one of our biggest rivals, in the finals. It was an intense final game, to say the least. After four quarters, two overtime periods and four rounds of shootouts, we won 27-26. Our team mentality carried us through that game. We were absolutely determined to qualify, no matter what. Even when we were down (at one point, by four goals!), we were determined to earn the spot in London.

Now we've made the first step to the Olympics, and the challenge for these months leading up to London will be to continue to take that same determination to the next games we play. The Games are only 162 days away -- nothing, really!

This week, we're hosting the Holiday Cup, a tournament with Greece, Italy and Canada. Greece and Italy are the top two European teams, and Canada is probably still thinking about the Pan Am loss, so it will be very competitive and will give us a good indication of where we stand. We have a big advantage, since we're playing at our home pool in Los Alamitos. We opened the tournament with a 17-10 win over the Italian squad, while Canada topped Greece 10-7.

Next up, we'll face Canada on Thursday night. Go USA!

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