Not just along for ride

As a child, Anne Belden remembers tagging along to water polo games and practices with her older brothers and older sister.

Back then there didn't seem to be any thought of pressure of following in her older siblings' footsteps. She would pile in the car with them to cheer for them during their games.

But she wasn't just along for the ride. She also learned about the sport. Somehow she let the game come to her.

As the years passed, Belden, the youngest of four, didn't want to be known as, "Baby Belden," or "Little Belden."

She was planning on making a name for herself. After great success at Newport Harbor High and four straight national titles with the UCLA women's water polo team, the 23-year-old continues to compete at a high level.

Recently she was named to the travel roster for the U.S. women's senior national team that is preparing for the 2010 FINA World Cup. She is one of 14 women on the travel team that will prepare with competition, including a pre-World Cup tournament in Sydney, Australia. Thirteen will be selected for the World Cup, which is Aug. 17 through 22 in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Belden left Tuesday on the trip.

"I don't know if I felt a lot of pressure; I just enjoyed water polo too," Belden said of growing up with older brothers, Peter and Andrew, and sister, Katherine, all whom played at Newport Harbor. "I learned a lot just by watching. My brothers and sisters would give me tips here and there."

Anne Belden isn't just any other Belden. She is different for sure. What sets her apart the most is that she is left-handed. She has used that to her advantage throughout her career.

Lefties have been known to throw defenses off balance and cause opposing teams to make changes. That just might help contribute among the 13 on the U.S. team that competes in the World Cup.

"Anne is currently the only left-hander in the program," said U.S. women's team coach Adam Krikorian, who was the coach at UCLA. "Her speed and quickness is unmatched. She is able to use these strengths to lead our counterattack and to become a distributor in our half-court offense and six-on-five."

Belden's championship experience could also help. As a junior she helped the Sailors win the CIF Southern Section Division I title. In the 2003-04 season, Newport Harbor dethroned Foothill, which had won four straight championships. Belden was a first-team All-CIF player in her final two seasons with the Sailors, who reached the Division I final when Belden was a senior.

After high school, it was off to UCLA, where Katherine and Peter also played. Belden became a frequent visitor of the White House, as the Bruins visited there after winning the national titles.

"It was incredible," Belden said. "Every year was really different from the one previous. We just played well every season. It just all came together."

Belden said her time at Newport Harbor helped her develop into a productive player at UCLA. With the Sailors, she learned under legendary coach Bill Barnett, a former Olympic coach.

"He trained us really well," Belden said of Barnett. "I felt it was a really easy transition. He knows the game so well and he's such an amazing coach."

Belden finished up at UCLA with an undergraduate degree in history last year. She then played in a women's pro league in Italy. She was away from home for seven months.

Later she was selected to compete in a four-day tryout for the U.S. women's travel team. Earlier this month, she was told she was named to the team.

"I was really excited," she said. "You train so hard and everyone wants to make the team. I felt like all the hard work paid off."

Belden hopes her work continues to produce positive results.

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