Life is slowly returning to normal for the world’s most dominant team

The women’s water polo team celebrate their gold medal after defeating Canada at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games on August 10, 2019 in Lima, Peru.

Olympic hopeful Paige Hauschild has been playing water polo since she was in elementary school, she said, and is now 21.

She was never laid off from competition like she did this year.

“I think the longest I’ve had was two weeks,” she said. “It was super weird thinking, ‘What am I doing with myself?’ I’ve been playing water polo every day since I was 8 or 9 and all of a sudden , it was gone. It was so weird to deal with.

Although life is slowly returning to normal for the USA women’s water polo team in terms of training together, with some friendlies in Europe hopefully scheduled for later this fall and winter, it has been a strange year to say the least.

Like everyone at the start of 2020, the team expected to be in Tokyo this summer. The reigning two-time Olympic champions – who have also won gold at the last three world championships – were looking to make it three in a row and prepare for the final team selection process in March.

Then everything stopped.

Dealing with the postponement of the Games has been difficult for athletes around the world, but the challenges for the water polo team were just beginning. Unlike athletes such as runners or cyclists who could still train fairly normally, water polo players were in a tough spot. They couldn’t be together, to begin with, and even if they could, the pools everywhere were closed.

For elite athletes who are not used to taking time off, it was difficult.

“Some girls had backyard pools or had a neighbor with a backyard pool, but they were definitely not 25 yards,” said Hauschild, who competes collegiately for USC. “They were trying to go work on the legs or swim in circles. I didn’t have access to a pool, so I was trying to adjust to being a land mammal.

Head coach Adam Krikorian, who has led the team since 2009, credited the strength coach, nutritionist, sports psychologist and team coaches for enabling the women to bring back the equipment at home and coming up with a plan to help everyone stay in shape during the lockdown.

Several Zoom calls a week have helped them stay in touch, check on each other, vent frustrations, get the latest updates, and support each other.

Finally, in June, they were able to get back together and get into the pool, but not in the way they were used to. Undergoing regular testing and adhering to safety protocols, the team trained in small groups both in the weight room and in the pool, where they were unable to do anything that required them to be in contact with each other, but they could still do drills and work on technique.

It wasn’t ideal, Krikorian said, but it allowed them to come together and get a sense of what training might look like in the future. They were together for 10 weeks, ending when they initially thought their season would be over in 2020: August 9, which would have been the gold medal game in Tokyo.

“We used that 10 week period to learn little things that worked, things that didn’t work, what protocols we needed and what we could take away. So when we started again (in September), we would have a better idea of ​​how we should operate,” he said. “I like to think we’re much more efficient now through this process.”

Today, the team is back together again after a month-long hiatus. They hope, Krikorian said, that with a continued decrease in COVID-19 cases and an increase in testing, they can start contact drills again and play again in October. He is even more hopeful that they can travel to Greece and Hungary in December for friendlies.

It’s already starting to feel like the preparation for Tokyo 2021 is underway compared to their time together this summer.

“It is, even though it was only a month difference,” said 2016 gold medalist Aria Fischer. “This fall was a reset just to say OK, it’s real, we’re training for Tokyo again. Obviously we still have protocols in place, we still don’t play water polo and we still stay socially distant in the swimming pool. ”

One of the results of being laid off and not being able to be together in the pool earlier this year has been a new appreciation for things that may not have generated much excitement a while ago. a year.

“Before, if you told me we were just going swimming, I would say, ‘Ugh, I want to play, I don’t want to swim,'” Fischer said. “Now even having the opportunity to swim makes you really grateful every time we play our sport.”

A few things will likely need to happen for the team to travel to Europe later this fall, Krikorian said, including agreement from the governments where they hope to play, continued testing and no virus spikes, as well than other logistics.

And even if that happens, he said, they might have to take a few pieces early on given that some European leagues have been playing for a little while now.

But at least they will play.

“Sometimes you find yourself in this rut ​​and position where you’re just going with the flow,” Krikorian said. “For us, we have found the joy of playing a sport and being with a team and I think this journey, as difficult as it is, at the end of the day is going to allow us to find more joy in playing the game. game. we love and play with the team and people we love. We’re excited to be back. It might not be pretty at first, but it’s okay. We have a bit of a long track until until we get to Tokyo 2021.”

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