Reporter dives into story, emerges as team member

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On a quiet Saturday afternoon, the Mountainview Aquatic Center was packed with excited high schoolers, ready to  start their new season of water polo. Teams from all over Atlanta strolled around the large, Olympic-sized swimming pool, their voices echoing loudly over the water.  Whistles tweeted left and right, their shrieking sounds hurting my ears. I was exhausted and a nervous wreck. I had to come all the way out to Marietta for my first Southerner story after playing in an ultimate Frisbee tournament.

I spotted the Grady water polo team in a huddle, and I anxiously made my way toward them, remembering the “no running at the pool” rule I had learned as a kid. As I neared the cluster, the team turned, their faces lighting up.

“Are you here to play? Do you have a suit, do you have a suit?” the team members asked eagerly in anticipation.

“Oh no, I’m just here for Southerner,” I quickly responded. Their dejected faces were enough to make me reconsider.

“I have a suit,” senior Julia Rapoport said.Proxy-Connection: keep-alive
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And that was how it began. I was directed to a bathroom, where I changed into the suit that was far tighter than any I had ever worn. “It’s good that way, so the boys don’t grab your straps,” Rapoport said.

“Straps? Grabbing?” I asked nervously. “They can do that?” Rapoport assured me it was a foul, but also warned that the referee couldn’t see everything. “Oh that’s great,” I thought. “They can drown me as long as the ref’s not looking.”

“If they’re really holding you under, you can kick them in the gut,” Rapoport said happily.  That seemed fun enough.

We made our way back to the team, which was enthusiastic about having two substitutes instead of one. “Maybe we should tell her the rules,” junior Troy Kleber suggested to the team.

They all began to speak at once. “You can’t touch the bottom of the pool.” “You can’t exactly push the guy you’re defending underwater.” “You have to line up before you start.” “You can only put one hand on the ball!” “You are trying to score.”

While trying to process all of this handy information, I noticed our opponents warming up on the other side of the pool.  The other team was the St. Pius Lions, an all-boys team that happened to be the No. 1 team in the state.  I almost shivered.  About 15 buff, tall boys in itty-bitty black Speedos were looking at us.

After our team had a small warm-up, the game began. I started off on the sidelines.  This gave me time to watch and observe before jumping in, but soon it was my turn.

I dove into the pool, quickly realizing I had no idea what position I was supposed to play. St. Pius scored a goal within seconds, which I could definitely blame on myself, but I was determined to figure out what I needed to do.

The basics are that everyone has a man that they mark the whole time, and you have to swim back and forth in the pool to stay with them. “That’s easy enough,” I thought, but I wasn’t taking into consideration that these were huge guys that were twice my size.

When I tried to swim with my mark, he grabbed me and pushed me back underwater. I was incensed. “Oh my gosh, how can he do that?” I thought, but I had to stick with him.

Though I only touched the ball once the entire game, I had fun playing.  Marking a player was challenging, but I could be really physical with them because of their size advantage.

As the game neared the end, I experienced yet another essential water-polo experience: a leg cramp, an excruciating spasm in your calf muscle that makes you feel as if you’re never going to walk again for about two minutes. I had to be subbed out but the time I spent in the water was enough to grab my attention.

Despite the surprises and scary moments, I really did enjoy playing. I signed up for the team two days later, but despite my best efforts, I never got that story I was supposed to write.