U.S. Women Look To Defend Gold In Water Polo On Friday

Aug 18, 2016
Originally published on August 19, 2016 8:59 am

The U.S. women's water polo team will be back in the pool on Friday, hungry for a second consecutive Olympic gold medal.

The women made it to the gold medal match after a decisive victory Wednesday against Hungary in the semifinals.

I watched that game with the mother of not one, but two players on Team USA.

Leslie Fischer of Laguna Beach, Calif., was sitting poolside, watching anxiously as the Hungarian players beat up on the U.S. team, including her daughters: Makenzie, 19, and Aria, 17, who's still in high school and the youngest player on the U.S. roster.

Leslie was wearing an American flag towel around her neck. She had a big U.S. flag to wave, and a very well-worn flag scarf tied around her handbag. She has brought it to every tournament since the girls were kids.

"A lot of us have some sort of little something, especially the moms, that (we) bring as good luck," she said.

Fischer greeted each U.S. goal with a joyous whoop, and each Hungarian goal with a groan.

"Go, go, go, go, go!" she shouted, egging the players on. "Nice, nice, nice, let's goooo!"

At one point, she rose out of her seat as she saw a Hungarian player flip her daughter Makenzie over on her back.

"Heyyyyyy!" she shouted toward the referees, but no foul was called.

"The Hungarians are gonna fight till the bitter end, as they should," Fischer said. "So, yeah, I'm just always nervous. Always. It's just, I think, the role of a parent!"

Makenzie (team nickname: "Fish") plays defense. Aria is a center, on offense.

They were born into a water polo family.

Leslie played at Stanford, where she met her husband, Erich. He played on the U.S. men's water polo team in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, where the squad finished fourth.

So the Fischer parents are watching their young daughters surpass their own dreams.

The U.S. women, ranked No. 1 in the world, dominated throughout the physical match with Hungary.

They trailed by one goal for a total of 44 seconds. In fact, that's the only time the U.S. women's team has trailed an opponent in the Rio Games.

As the clock ticked down to zero, Leslie Fischer cheered lustily: "Whooo! Way to go USA!"

Final score: U.S. 14, Hungary 10.

"It's always nice to win, but that's a really nice win," Fischer said.

After the game, a big contingent of U.S. family and friends gathered in a hallway, waiting for the team to come out after showers and random drug testing.

As she waited, Leslie Fischer said Makenzie and Aria played a little bit of everything growing up: basketball, soccer, volleyball, tennis and more.

"Both of them really wanted to do gymnastics and we let them do it for a little bit, but told them probably that was not going to be the sport for them, since they're so tall!"

Makenzie is 6-foot-1 and Aria is 6-foot even.

One by one, the U.S. women emerged, some with bags of ice taped around their aching shoulders.

In water polo, you take a real pounding, which, as a former player, Leslie knows all too well.

"It can be very hard watching your daughters getting beaten up," she said. "But my girls don't shy away from it. That's part of what they like. So knowing that they like that aspect of the game, you kind of have to just sit there sometimes and bite your tongue and hope they don't get injured."

Finally, after a long wait, older daughter Makenzie appeared.

"So proud of you," her mom murmured as she folded her into an embrace.

Dad Erich beamed. "You're goin' to the gold medal match! Whooo!!!"

Finally Aria came out, wide-eyed and grinning.

"My thoughts are all jumbled right now," she said. "I'm just really trying to take energy from this win. It hasn't really hit me yet. I don't know, I'm just a 17-year-old, so this is pretty cool!"

Soon, the daughters said goodbye to their parents, and went off to rest and regroup for Friday's gold medal match with Italy.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Tomorrow in Rio, the U.S. women's water polo team will be competing for their second consecutive Olympic gold. The women made it to the gold medal match after beating Hungary in yesterday's semifinals. NPR's Melissa Block watched that game with the mother of not one but two players on Team USA.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Meet Leslie Fischer.

LESLIE FISCHER: Go; go; go; go; go.

BLOCK: She's watching anxiously as the U.S. women's water polo team tries to fend off the scrappy, aggressive Hungarians.

LESLIE FISCHER: Hey.

BLOCK: Fischer rises out of her seat as she watches a Hungarian player flip her daughter Makenzie over on her back. But no foul is called.

LESLIE FISCHER: The Hungarians are going to fight to the bitter end, as they should. And so, yeah, I'm just always nervous, always. It's just, I think, a role of a parent (laughter).

BLOCK: There are two Fischers on this team, Makenzie, age 19, and her sister Aria, at 17, the youngest player on the roster. She's still in high school.

LESLIE FISCHER: Come on, Fish. Come on, Fish. Come on, Fish. Go.

BLOCK: Fish is Makenzie's team nickname. She plays defense. Aria is a center on offense. And they were born into a water polo family. Leslie played at Stanford, where she met her husband Erich. He played on the U.S. men's water polo team that went to the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. They finished fourth.

LESLIE FISCHER: Nice, nice, nice, let's go.

BLOCK: So the Fischers are watching their young daughters surpass their own dreams. Leslie is wearing an American flag towel around her neck. She has a big U.S. flag to wave and a very well-worn flag scarf tied around her handbag. She's brought it to every tournament since the girls were kids.

LESLIE FISCHER: A lot of us have some sort of little something, especially the moms, that they bring as good luck.

BLOCK: The U.S. dominates throughout the physical match. They trail Hungary by one goal for a total of 44 seconds. In fact, that's the only time the U.S. women's team has ever trailed an opponent in all of the Rio Games. Final score, U.S. 14, Hungary 10.

(APPLAUSE)

LESLIE FISCHER: Way to go, USA.

BLOCK: There's a big contingent of U.S. family and friends waiting for the team to emerge after showers and random drug testing, lots of stars and stripes and crazy headgear. As she waits, Leslie Fischer tells me Makenzie and Aria played a little bit of everything growing up - basketball, soccer, volleyball, tennis.

LESLIE FISCHER: Both of them really wanted to do gymnastics. And we let them do it for a little bit but told them probably that was not going to be the sport for them since they're so tall.

BLOCK: Aria is six feet. Makenzie is 6-1. One by one, the U.S. women emerge, some with bags of ice taped around their aching shoulders. In water polo, you take a real pounding.

LESLIE FISCHER: It can be very hard watching your daughters getting beaten up. But my girls don't shy away from it. You know, that's part of what they like. So knowing that they like that aspect of the game, you kind of just have to sit there sometimes and just bite your tongue and just hope they don't get injured.

BLOCK: Leslie keeps waiting in a hallway and finally...

LESLIE FISCHER: Hey, sweetheart.

MAKENZIE FISCHER: Thank you.

LESLIE FISCHER: I'm so proud of you.

BLOCK: Older daughter Makenzie appears first for a congratulatory hug and kiss. Then, Aria comes out wide-eyed and grinning.

ARIA FISCHER: It's kind of - I kind of have - my thoughts are all jumbled right now. I'm just really trying to take energy from this win. And it hasn't really hit me yet. I don't know, I'm just a 17-year-old, so this is pretty cool (laughter).

BLOCK: And soon, the daughters say goodbye and go off to rest and regroup for tomorrow's gold medal match with Italy. Their coach, Adam Krikorian, says it's going to be a heck of a battle and we are going to have our hands full. Melissa Block, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.