Rachel Fattal is looking for another gold medal with the US women’s water polo team

LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. (AP) — U.S. captain Maggie Steffens comes from a Bay Area family with deep roots in water polo. And her family loves Rachel Fattal.

Because Fattal plays the way they like to play.

“My family obviously knows water polo very well and sees the little details and knows that the little details are what wins games,” Steffens said. “The little details are what wins championships, and their favorite player is Rachel Fattal.”

During an unprecedented run atop the sport — a record three straight gold medals for the U.S. women going into the Paris Olympics — there might not be a more overlooked American player than Fattal.

The 30-year-old UCLA grad takes the sprints for the U.S. at the beginning of each quarter. She has scored some big goals for the national team, including a hat trick when the U.S. beat Hungary 8-7 in February for the country’s eighth world championship. But she is just as content to set up a teammate, and she brings the same energy to her responsibilities on defense.

None of that versatility is by accident. Fattal looks to fill in wherever she is needed the most.

“I just want to be the best that I can be for the team wherever the team needs me,” Fattal said. “That’s my philosophy.”

Fattal played in her first Olympics in 2016, and the U.S. rolled to a 6-0 record while outscoring its opponents 73-31 in Rio de Janeiro. She was even better in 2021, helping the U.S. recover after its first loss at the Olympics since the 2008 final.

Following that 10-9 setback against Hungary in Tokyo, the U.S. ripped off four straight wins by a combined score of 63-26. Fattal logged all 32 minutes in both the semifinals and final in what coach Adam Krikorian said was a first for him for a field player since he took over the U.S. program in 2009.

“There’s not been a player in this program that has worked harder than Rachel Fattal,” Krikorian said. “Bar none. I mean, she’s a workhorse.”

Krikorian said Fattal’s competitive fire “is unlike anyone else,” and that makes her a particularly important player on the roster going to Paris.

“For this team who struggles at times to kind of find that competitive edge or maybe that attention to detail that is so important for teams and athletes to have success, it’s crucial to have a leader like Rachel who’s really displaying those things on literally a daily basis in a consistent manner,” he said.

“Without her, we would have no chance moving forward.”

Fattal, a native of Seal Beach in Southern California, got into water polo through swim team. Her swim coach also coached water polo.

When swim practice was over, the coach would throw a couple of balls into the pool.

“I started by floating on the ball and then I was only like 6,” a smiling Fattal said. “And back then there weren’t different-sized balls, so I had a men’s ball balanced against my head with my hand because I couldn’t actually hold it in my hand.”

Fattal played water polo and volleyball and was on the swim team at Los Alamitos High School before going to UCLA. She was a first team All-American four times with the Bruins, finishing with 220 goals and a school-record 188 steals.

But it’s her time with the U.S. national team that really put her in the spotlight in the growing American water polo community, largely centered in California. She was among the players that some of her younger teammates watched in 2016, dreaming of their own Olympic experience.

Making that transition from fan to teammate has been a challenge for the younger U.S. players going into Paris — one Fattal has done her best to smooth over.

“I want them to want to play with us, but I also want them to be their own selves,” Fattal said. “Like try and beat me, try and take things from me or Maggie or Maddie (Musselman) and then improve and make them better and then make them yours.

“I think that’s the biggest thing on this team is getting them to not just want to play and look up at us in awe, but to play with us and to compete and be better. Can you be better? … What’s cooler than beating your childhood star?”


AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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