By Austin Block
The stands were crammed with Russians wearing clothing adorned with Russian flags. A small pro-USA section was dwarfed by the enormous crowd congregated in a stadium in Khanty-Mansiysk, Siberia. It was the first night of the womenâs water polo 2009 FINA Junior World Championships this summer, and Ashley Grossman â11, a member of the U.S. Junior National team, was about to compete.
“I get super super nervous before but once the whistle blows then Iâm completely fine,” Grossman, a center, said. “I think I might have scored the first goal maybe. I was just amped.”
Grossman said the USA-Russia matchup was “probably the most watched game of the tournament.”
“We lost, but the memory of playing in that game is so vivid in my mind. We were all so amped and had so much adrenaline, were so excited, and we were in Russia and we were playing Russia on the first night,” she said. “This was everything we had trained for and the first night of the tournament was so exciting and our coach gave us an awesome speech and the whole situation was really memorable.”
The team overcame the loss to take the bronze medal in the tournament.
“Russia is probably the highlight of my life currently,” Grossman said.
Grossman hopes to compete in the Olympics with the US team.
“Iâve always been an athletic person and so I put my heart into everything. I try to do my best in everything and I really enjoyed it. I really wanted to go far,” Grossman said. “Iâve wanted to go to the Olympics since I was six so thatâs always been in my vision.”
“2012 would be great but 2016 is more reasonable out of the lineup of girls in my position,” she said. “Until I get there that will be my dream.”
The 2016 Olympic games are set to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil.
Around six years earlier, a huge kid was dragging Grossman under the water by a cap string that she didnât know she was supposed to tie under her chin. It was her first day of water polo, and she had no clue what was happening.
“It was a struggle but I think I caught on quickly because I had people helping me there,” Grossman said.
Grossman chose to pursue water polo over soccer and at age 14 played for the Youth National team in the 2008 Pan-American Youth Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil. That team won the silver medal.
Grossman plays six days a week with the school team and during the offseason plays five days a week with her club team.
A couple of months ago Grossman was invited to play with the national Senior B team, effectively the second string of the national Olympic team, in Canada, but a wrist injury prevented her from going.
“That was like the all time coolest thing but then I didnât get to go so that was a letdown,” Grossman said. “[Being asked to play with the Senior B team] was my biggest personal accomplishment.”
She injured her wrist in October due to “major overuse” and couldnât play for a month.
The weekend she hurt her wrist she was playing in the Speedo Top 40 Championships, a casual tournament in which 40 players from the Senior, Senior B, and Junior National teams played each other. This tournament was part of the larger Speedo Top 40 Open Tournament taking place at the same time, another casual tournament which Grossman was also playing in.
“It was way too much,” Grossman said. “I was going from game to game and â¦ my body couldnât take it.”
Grossman is back playing now, though she still wears a removable cast and tapes her wrist before games.
She is already being recruited for college. She exchanges emails with coaches, and has gone to junior days and on unofficial visits. The four schools she is interested in are UC Berkeley, UCLA, USC,Â and Stanford.
Since the water polo world is so small, she knows many of the prominent coaches and Olympians.
“Iâm pretty happy with it [water polo]. Of course I get tired of it, and especially when weâre swimming,” Grossman said. “Sometimes you step back and youâre like âis it worth it? Okay yes it is letâs go,â I donât plan on getting tired of it. I really love it.”