Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - July 6, 2012

Hoping for good ending

USA women have a gold-medal story for the Olympics

by Rick Eymer

Melissa Seidemann wasn't quite sure what to make of all the down time she experienced since she decided to take a year off from Stanford and train with the United States Women's National Water Polo Team in preparation for the 2012 London Olympics.

Seidemann, who was back at Stanford Monday night as part of the U.S. Olympic team that downed Hungary, 17-8, in an exhibition match, discovered reading in her spare time.

With the Americans in the final stretch of their preparation for the Olympic Games, there has been precious little time to hit the books. Team USA and Hungary also played Wednesday night in Los Alamitos, with the Americans posting a 14-8 victory. The teams meet again Friday night in San Diego and Sunday in Newport Beach in the final competition before the Olympics begin on July 27.

"I wasn't much of a reader before," Seidemann said. "At first I was excited that I wouldn't have to do any homework and all I had to do was think about water polo. But in the middle of it, I was wondering what to do with myself. At school I learned to segment my time. When I was at water polo, that's all I thought about. After that, there was homework and that's all I thought about."

Sure, the national team practices were longer, maybe a little more intensified and the meetings, game plans and conditioning were harder, but there was down time.

"I had to rewind and let my mind relax," Seidemann said. "So I got into reading books. Nothing special, stuff like the 'Harry Potter' books. For a while I was reading about a book a week."

Most of her summers have always been about water polo, whether it was age group or the national team. This summer is no different, except for that trip to London coming up at the end of July.

Seidemann was named the game's MVP after scoring three goals and holding down the rugged 2-meter position. Stanford grad Brenda Villa was also honored afterward. Incoming freshman Maggie Steffens added three goals and Cardinal junior Annika Dries also scored. Stanford grad Jessica Steffens, one of the top defensive players in the game, also played.

"It's been strange," Seidemann said of her year off. "I had a hard time leaving and knew somehow I had to stay involved. I was able to be there for a lot of the matches and we even came up for the Stanford Invitational. It was great to stay involved. I even became friends with the freshmen."

Monday's game drew a crowd of 3,042, the largest to ever witness a women's water polo contest on American soil.

"It was definitely cool coming back," Seidemann said. "It felt normal. This is my happy place."

The U.S. returned from Changshu, China, where it won the FINA World League Super Final with a victory over Australia, early in June and things have gotten pretty intense ever since.

"Now we're down the last couple of weeks and all of a sudden there's not much time left," Seidemann said.

Before the trip to China, there was the trip to San Diego to watch Stanford play at the NCAA Championships.

Seidemann and Dries, who also took the year from school, were interviewed by a television crew after Stanford won its semifinal match.

"The cameraman asked me what I would do if Stanford won," Seidemann said. "I say I would probably start crying, which I did. Then he asked me if we would jump in the pool and I didn't know if that would be allowed. There was a lot of security when Annika and I raced down to the deck. The same cameraman was standing there and he kept shaking his head, like 'go ahead, do it.' So we just went for it and jumped in. I forgot to thank him."

For her part, Dries said she didn't realize how nervous she would be watching from the stands.

"I still felt connected to Stanford and there were a lot of mixed emotions," Dries said. "We would talk to them once in a while during the season. They took it and ran with it. They didn't need us. They knew they could do it."

Two of her soccer friends, Alina Garciamendez and Lindsay Dickerson, drove down to join her in the stands. Garciamendez and Dickerson, of course, helped the Cardinal win the NCAA women's soccer title in the fall.

"It all made me think about our ultimate goal of winning the championship at the Olympics," Dries said. "The soccer team winning pumped up the water polo team and I realized how it all came down to the little details. You train and work to be the best and to be ready for anything."

NOTES: Maggie Steffens scored a pair of goals to help the U.S. defeat Hungary on Wednesday. With a 4th of July celebration looming, the Team USA did not disappoint the home crowd as fireworks after the game were prefaced by offensive fireworks in the pool. For the second straight exhibition game, the Americans scored in double figures and now have outscored Hungary 31-16. The United States put the match away in the fourth opening the period with three straight scores to take a 13-5 lead. Villa and Dries added goals to the victory. Team USA went 6-for-12 on power plays and made one of two penalty shots while Hungary was 5-for-10 on power plays and did not attempt a penalty.

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