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Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Our last home game before London

By Annika Dries

Annika Dries
Annika Dries spent two years on the Stanford water polo team, so playing at home this past week felt like the perfect pre-London warm-up.

I love hearing our national anthem. It's a moment of calm before the storm, and everyone is focused on just listening to the music. Last week, I heard it for the last time before we hear it in London.

We played in a series of four physical games at home against Hungary, the team we'll play in our opening match at the Olympics less than a month from now. We won all four matches -- a huge confidence boost -- but our first game, held at Stanford, was especially unforgettable.

We arrived early on Sunday morning to a warm welcome from the Stanford club team. They had posters galore and huge smiles that reminded me of when I met the Olympic team back in high school. This showing was only the beginning of the hospitality of the Stanford community. We hopped onto our ride for the weekend: a party bus! Actually, a game bus for us, but we were excited to be driven in such style.

As we drove onto campus, a rush of emotions came over me: pride, joy and, of course, excitement. I was at Stanford for two years before taking a leave to train for the Olympics, and all of these memories from school came back to me. I got chills walking back onto the Avery pool deck. It was a picture-perfect day: the clear blue water, the Stanford scoreboard highlighted by the blue skies and drifting clouds, and the overhead tan awnings that surround the top of the stadium seating. I turned to my teammate Tumua and said in a heartfelt tone, “I can’t wait to jump in that pool!”

She laughed, as usually before a grueling practice we say that with a little more sarcasm. But this pool really does have energy to it, and it is so fun to play in. I knew we were about to create a new memory with our USA teammates.

After a wonderful team dinner and a good night’s rest, it was game day. This was our first look at the full Hungarian squad, and we knew we wanted to make a lasting impression on our home turf, or rather, home water. During warm-ups, I prepared myself for pregame nerves as masses of people filled up the stadium. We lined up across the deck with Hungary for team announcements. The video replay board was going and you could hear the rumbling roar of support start to build. It was so exciting to walk out in front of that crowd. Our anthem started to play, and everyone grew quiet.

After the final notes, the crowd erupted again, cheering, "U-S-A!" We jumped in, and once I hit the water, calmness came over me. This was home. America. Stanford. Avery Aquatic Center. Even just being in the water. That’s where I thrive. Sure, I was still anxious for the whistle to blow and the game to start, but my mind was clear -- it was time to just play.

And play we did! With the support of more than 3,000 flag-waving fans, we beat Hungary 17-8. While the score may seem like a blowout, it was far from it. The Hungarians battled and played very physical for all four quarters. We will be ready for anything during our first game against them at the Olympics.

As I was swimming backstroke and warming down after the game, I looked up to the fans and around to each of my teammates. There were no real thoughts in my head, just an overwhelming feeling of happiness. That game gave us a sense of home, of pride and joy, which we will bring with us as we represent the United States of America at the Olympic Games. Go, USA!