PHOENIX, Arizona, November 16. HEADING into what could probably be her final run at an Olympic gold medal in Beijing, USA water polo veteran Ericka Lorenz talks about her development from an elite-level softball player in California to one of the top water polo players in the world.
Early on in her athletic development like so many other Southern California girls, Lorenz enjoyed the softball diamond as her competitive field of choice. She dominated at that level with first team All-American accolades as a member of Patrick Henry High's team. She also earned first team all-state laurels for her play in volleyball during her prep career. All the while, she still plied her trade as a water polo player in her spare time.
"Making the choice to continue playing water polo in college instead of softball was an easy decision," Lorenz said. "I played softball when I was growing up, and it was my favorite sport for awhile. There are so many girls playing softball, though. There is much less competition to reach the Olympic level in water polo. It was a new, developing sport that I wanted to be a part of, and I came along at the right time. It was a natural progression. People noticed me playing in high school, and then I made the youth team. After that, I made the junior team. I was succeeding in the sport, and I would have been silly to choose softball over water polo."
During her collegiate career, Lorenz garnered All-American honors twice. Additionally, she led the University of California in scoring as a freshman with 44 goals. In her maiden collegiate season, the international level of competition came calling in an uncommon way. Lorenz made her first U.S. National Team as part of a B-team tryout at the Holiday Cup.
"It was unexpected," Lorenz said of making the team. "I was a freshman at Cal, and I went to play in the Holiday Cup that year. Coach Guy Baker was looking to change up the American team at the time. After that tournament, Coach Baker asked Heather Petri and I if we would like to move down and train full time. We then qualified in April in Italy at an Olympic qualification tournament. It was a no brainer at the time to make that move."
The drastic change in Lorenz's life proved to be fruitful as she went on to win a pair of Olympic medals in 2000 (silver) and 2004 (bronze).
"I still haven't had enough time to fully appreciate what I have experienced," Lorenz said of being a two-time Olympic medalist. "I am still sort of in it all. My first Olympics in Sydney were a blur. It all happened so fast. I was the youngest person on the team for nine months leading up to the Games. My jaw was dragging on the floor, and I couldn't fully comprehend it. It was a special thing to go to the Olympics and medal when I was only 19.
"The second time around in Athens, it had a little more meaning," Lorenz continued. "I was there building that team for four years. That was a little bit more memorable, but unfortunately not the same results. Once I have a bit of separation from water polo after 2008, I will really appreciate these last couple of years that I spent on the national team."
This past season, Lorenz decided to take another step out from her comfort zone when she accepted an offer to play for Ortigia-Siracusa of Sicily as part of a professional water polo league in Italy. Lorenz spoke about her experience in the European professional ranks.
"The competition level is a huge step below playing on the national team and internationally," Lorenz said. "It was a time to relax, and just have fun playing water polo. The training there wasn't nearly as demanding as the national team. Training with the national team is insane. I don't think the professional teams train the way international teams do. I wouldn't say it was a vacation, because it was still work. It was a way to have fun with water polo and not have it be super serious all the time. I also had the chance to experience living overseas."
With a bit of a personal detour in the sport behind her, Lorenz has re-focused on chasing the dream of an Olympic gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games.
"We are focused on World Championships in March in Melbourne, Australia," Lorenz said of the national team's training regime towards 2008. "We have a few hurdles to jump before we get to Beijing, so we are pretty intense right now. We have been doing lots of lifting and swimming, with a little bit of water polo play here and there. Starting in February, we will have our whole team together, because a lot of them are still playing in college right now. Every other weekend, we will get everyone together. Once we have that, we can start building as a team. We still have a pretty long road ahead of us."
Based on her conversation with SwimmingWorldMagazine.com, Lorenz definitely looks to Beijing as her last hurrah on the international scene.
"Hopefully, and probably definitely, this will be my last Olympics." Lorenz said. "I don't know if I could take it anymore after that. My body is breaking down, and I am starting to feel like I am 50 at the age of 25."