LOS ANGELES — As the U.S. Olympic women’s water polo team was named Thursday, Coach Adam Krikorian read off the names in alphabetical order.
The first name was the former Corona del Mar High and USC standout, Tumua Anae. This led to a funny moment at the announcement at the LA84 Foundation.
“It was a little awkward,” Anae said. “He kind of just looked at me. I wasn’t sure of the formality of it, if we were supposed to hug or shake hands. But I’m all about the hugs.”
It makes sense. Talk to Anae for a second and you realize the goalkeeper is also all about family. Her newest family is the Olympic one she officially joined Thursday, as she is one of 13 on the roster who will represent the United States at the London Olympics beginning in late July.
It is the first Olympic Games for Anae. And she said it’s something she’s dreamed about since she was 8, when she began swimming competitively.
Though she played water polo in junior high, Anae was mostly a swimmer in those earlier years. She was dominant in the breaststroke and a member of CdM’s 2004 and 2006 CIF Southern Section Division 2 championship swim teams. In high school, she didn’t start playing water polo until her junior year, yet she was a starting keeper on CdM’s 2006 Division 2 championship team as a senior. Four years later, she was the starting keeper on the 2010 national championship team at USC.
That’s a lot of winning. But the dream she had as a little kid? Seven years after joining Coach Aaron Chaney’s squad in 2005, that has become reality.
“I come from a really big sports family,” said Anae, 23. “My grandpa would tell my dad [Allen], ‘You’re going to make an Olympics one day.’ It turns out, his daughter is the one that’s going to go. It’s just a dream that you have when you start getting involved in athletics, especially in an aquatic sport. That’s swimming and water polo’s biggest stage, the Olympics.”
Krikorian, the U.S. national team head coach, has been familiar with Anae. He used to coach against her as the head coach at UCLA. But, he said, getting to really know her has also been a pleasure.
Anae is a player who stays calm under pressure.
“She brings a calmness and a composure to this team that is so important, especially in big moments and big events like the Olympic Games when you need to keep your emotions in check,” Krikorian said. “One of the greatest things about Tumua is that she’s got a great perspective on things. She’s extremely competitive, she takes her job very serious. She clearly wants to be the best that she can possibly be, but she also understands that at the end of the day it’s still a game. Although she commits a lot to [water polo], the most important thing to her is her family.
“I believe that when you have that perspective, it allows you to play with more confidence, with more freedom and less restriction, less pressure. To have that on a team, I think it’s invaluable.”
Team USA, which features UC Irvine head man Dan Klatt as an assistant coach, is led by team captain and four-time Olympian Brenda Villa. The Americans leave May 26 for the FINA World League Super Final in China, where they’ll play six games. They’ll then train throughout June before a four-game series against Hungary in early July. The last game of the series, on July 8, will be a nationally televised game at CdM.
The United States also opens the Olympics against Hungary on July 30. The Americans are looking for their first gold medal, as the team has two silver medals and a bronze from the previous three Olympic Games in which women’s water polo was played.
Upon leaving the LA84 Foundation on Thursday, Anae planned to call her older sister, Jordan Anae Moala. The two still talk everyday even though Jordan now lives in Indiana, where she’s raising a family with her husband, Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Fili Moala.
“It’s kind of a fun dynamic now to have a brother,” Tumua Anae said. “He said, ‘I can play in the Super Bowl, but the Olympics is something that I’d love to be able to do.’”
Tumua Anae is one of two goalies on the roster. The other is Betsey Armstrong, the starting keeper on the 2008 Beijing team that won silver. Armstrong has also been the starting goalie on the recent run that has seen Team USA claim gold in six of its last seven international competitions. That includes last fall’s Pan American Games, when Armstrong made big plays late to help secure an epic 27-26 win over Canada in the gold-medal game, which clinched Team USA’s 2012 Olympic berth.
Many people, Anae included, consider Armstrong the best women’s goalie in the world.
“It’s been great,” Anae said. “She’s a great person, to start with. She’s fun to hang around with. I think I jive really well together inside and outside of the water, with our personalities. To train with the best goalie in the world, you’re going to learn a lot of things. I’ve definitely learned a lot from Betsey about how you approach the game physically and mentally, and how you communicate with your teammates. I’ve learned a lot about the international game from her. It’s not all work, you know, she’s really fun. She’s a cool person.”
Anae’s calm demeanor has helped her throughout her career. Chaney said Thursday in a phone interview from Hawaii that he remembers when she was an All-American at USC her sophomore year. Then, a bit of adversity struck the next year.
In 2009, the Trojans recruited Ilse van der Meijden of the Netherlands, who had helped her country earn the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. Not only that, but Trojans Coach Jovan Vavic made van der Meijden the starting goalie to begin the season.
“Tumua has no ego, no selfishness on her part,” Chaney said. "[She’s] totally a team player ... She didn’t get really bummed. If you were to throw [losing your starting spot] in front of a lot of college players, they’d be upset, crying. There would be drama, but not Tumua. I was living up there at the time, I was watching her. I’m sure she was bummed inside, but she didn’t show it outwardly. She just kept working at it, and she got her starting position back. The rest was kind of history after that.”
Well, almost. After winning the national championship at USC in 2010, Krikorian said Anae was left off the FINA World League Super Final and World Cup teams, each of which won gold medals. There has also been competition at the goalie spot from Sami Hill, the goalie who helped turn Dos Pueblos High of Goleta into a powerhouse before going to UCLA.
"[Anae] knew that it was a competitive environment,” Krikorian said. “She knew that if she didn’t raise her game, she wasn’t going to make it ... She came back even stronger in 2011, and proved that she deserved to be on the team.”
Thursday’s announcement included an opening address from Anita DeFrantz, the LA84 Foundation President and an International Olympic Committee member. After the team was announced, a short highlight video came on. As “London Calling” from The Clash played in the background, the video ended with three simple words.
“It’s our time.”
It’s a time that Tumua Anae, the former swimmer, will never forget.
“I grew up watching [seven-time Olympic swimming medalist] Amanda Beard,” Anae said. “Since she was from Irvine, she was my Olympian that I kind of idolized. I would see her at swim meets and thought I wanted to be just like her.
“I guess water polo was my way in,” she added with a laugh.