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Rulon Blends Well With Veteran Water Polo Team

June 21, 2004|Kelsie Smith | Times Staff Writer

Kelly Rulon has been getting ready for Athens for five months.

That's not long, considering that seven of her U.S. teammates have been getting ready for four years.

Rulon, an attacker, was called up from the junior national water polo team to the senior team in January. The UCLA sophomore joined a team of 12 other women, seven of whom won silver medals at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. At Athens, Rulon will have exactly one previous international experience with the senior team.

The U.S. team will play host to the Olympic field from Wednesday through Sunday in the first FINA Women's World League Super Finals at the Charter All-Digital Aquatic Centre in Long Beach. Besides being the team's newest member, Rulon, 19, is also the youngest.

When team captain Heather Moody played in her first international competition in 1996, Rulon was in grade school.

Rulon, from Point Loma, Calif., has had to adjust quickly to the more physically demanding game of the senior team.

She also has had to find her place on a team of close-knit women.

She said everything had happened so fast that it still didn't seem real. "I mean, I get to go to the Olympics!" she said.

So far, Coach Guy Baker likes the way Rulon has made the transition.

"She's been a great addition to our team, and not just what she does in the water," he said. "Her personality is a nice fit with our team. She has a great spirit. Her enthusiasm is high, and she gets along with everybody, which can be awkward coming in at the last minute to a team that has already been successful. But she handled it great, with tremendous maturity."

Her teammates said Rulon has made the transition smoothly.

"When new players come, they're super-intimidated," Moody said. "Kelly's amazing. She's lighthearted, and she asks lots of questions. It was like there wasn't an adjustment phase."

Teammate Brenda Villa agreed.

"Kelly ... can make anyone on our team smile," she said. "I don't know if it's her youth or what it is. We are training day in and day out, and she came in January, and she's working just as hard as us, and she will sing a song or something. She is always smiling ... that's kind of refreshing."

Rulon apparently couldn't have picked an easier-going group.

"Sometimes teams have cliques and groups," Baker said. "We don't."

Moody, Villa and teammate Nicolle Payne were on the national team even before Baker took over in 1998, and Moody said that getting along is something the players have demanded of themselves.

Now the U.S. team faces a new challenge.

After going to Sydney as an underdog -- and winning silver -- it will go to Athens as the favorite, ranked No. 1 in the world.

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