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Thursday, May 17, 2012
U.S. selects water polo team

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Four-time Olympians Brenda Villa and Heather Petri will be taking their final shots at winning an elusive gold medal in women's water polo as members of the United States team for the London Games.

They were among 13 players on the roster announced Thursday that includes just three current collegiate players -- Annika Dries, Melissa Seidemann and Maggie Steffens, all from Stanford and each making her Olympic debut. The trio didn't enroll in school this year so it could train with the U.S. team.

Villa and Petri have helped the U.S. to medals at every Olympics since women's water polo was added to the schedule in 2000. The U.S. earned a silver in Sydney, a bronze at the 2004 Athens Games and a silver four years ago in Beijing. Both women plan to retire after London.

"Our chances look really good," said the 32-year-old Villa, who plans to coach high school water polo when her playing days end. "It's a long tournament. We just have to play great at the end. We have to focus on what we need to do and not get distracted by anything."

The Americans open the Olympic tournament July 30 against Hungary. Also in Group A are China and Spain.

"It really could be any team," coach Adam Krikorian said of the potential champion. "I wouldn't say there's really one team that we're focusing on."

He said his team's strengths are its defensive play and depth.

"We don't rely on one or two players," he said. "It makes it very difficult to prepare for us."

The roster also includes: Betsey Armstrong, Kami Craig, Kelly Rulon, Jessica Steffens, Elsie Windes, Lauren Wenger, Tamua Anae and Courtney Mathewson. Eight of the 13 members have competed in at least one previous Olympics, giving the squad a blend of experience and youth.

The only non-Californians on the team are Armstrong, a goaltender from Ann Arbor, Mich., and Windes, a defender from Portland, Ore.

Stanford landed a total of five current and former players on the team, including the Steffens sisters. Southern California had three players, while California and UCLA had two each.

The U.S. women's team has maintained its success since Krikorian took over the program four years ago. It won three FINA World League Super Finals, the 2009 world championships, and the 2010 FINA World Cup. Its only stumble came at last year's worlds in Shanghai, where the U.S. finished sixth after failing to reach the medal round.

The women bounced back with a gold medal at last year's Pan American Games, edging Canada 27-26 in a 20-round shootout that assured the team a berth in the London Olympics.