(L-R) Aria Fischer and Makenzie Fischer will compete in water polo for Team USA at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Just four years ago, Aria Fischer remembers being in a far different place.
Now the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Water Polo Team headed to Rio de Janeiro at age 17, Fischer then was barely a teen and excited to get to watch the U.S. national team play a game in the summer of 2012.
The kid from a water polo family in Laguna Beach, California, hustled to get the autographs of athletes who would go on to win a gold medal in London.
“I was running around, trying to get Maggie Steffens’ signature and trying to get Kami Craig’s signature and Courtney Mathewson’s and Mel Seidemann’s, and now they’re my teammates,” she said. “It’s just the coolest experience.”
She still has the sweatshirt with all their signatures.
What’s even crazier, she said, is now she has kids coming up to her, hoping she’ll sign anything they have.
“But it’s so cool I can be involved in helping inspire young players, because I am a young player,” she said.
What’s also notable is she’ll get to experience the Rio Games with her sister Makenzie, 19.
The sisters were among nine newcomers selected to the 13-player team that will try to win back-to-back gold medals. The four veterans are Craig (going to her third Games) and team captain Steffens, Mathewson and Seidemann.
|Makenzie Fischer in action at the women's semifinal between the United States and Australia at the 16th FINA World Championships at the Water Polo Arena on Aug. 5, 2015 in Kazan, Russia.
Aria, a center, and Makenzie, a defender, say the Games will be extra special because they get to go together. Just a few months ago, neither saw that happening. Makenzie re-made herself into a defender to make the team after being an attacking player for most of her water polo life. Aria was a long shot because of her age and lack of experience with the national team.
“She really improved a lot this year and it’s pretty crazy, someone who hasn’t even graduated high school is going to the Olympics,” Makenzie said. “But I couldn’t be more excited to be able to share our first Olympics together.”
An Olympian Father
Makenzie and Aria are the daughters of Erich Fischer, a former All-America player at Stanford who was a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Men’s Water Polo Team in Barcelona, Spain, and Leslie Fischer, who played on the women’s team at Stanford when it still was a club sport.
Yet their parents didn’t push them toward water polo when they were young. Makenzie played other sports, including soccer, where she hoped to one day follow in the footsteps of one of her idols, Mia Hamm. Aria, too, played soccer and basketball. Both were interested in trying water polo, but their father insisted they swim competitively first. Finally, Makenzie took it up when she was about 10, and Aria when she was about 9.
Erich Fischer recently told a reporter that he believes his daughters are probably better players now because they played other sports.
“You learn a lot from playing soccer, from basketball, and they kind of gravitated towards the team sports and they kind of gravitated towards the physical sports,” he said. “You know, basketball’s a physical sport, soccer’s a physical sport, water polo, they like that physicality.”
The sisters played on a club team together in Laguna Beach and for two years together at Laguna Beach High School, where Aria is entering her senior year. Makenzie graduated last year and was accepted to Stanford, but decided to take this year off to concentrate on making the Olympic team. She’ll enter Stanford this fall.
Each has enjoyed success playing for the U.S. team.
Makenzie, at 6-foot-1, was a key member of the U.S. team that won the 2015 FINA World Championship, scoring six goals in that tournament. She also scored 10 goals to help the U.S. squad win a gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games and was on the U.S. team this year (with Aria) at the tournament that secured a spot at the Rio Games.
Aria, a 6-footer, led the U.S. women in scoring with 18 goals in the 2014 FINA Youth World Championship and scored 16 goals and was MVP of the 2014 team that won the Pan American Junior Championship. She also helped Team USA win the 2014 Junior Olympic 16-under championship.
The sisters, who go head-to-head in almost every national-team practice session, bring different personalities and talents to the team.
Says Makenzie of Aria: “We’re very opposite players. She’s a go-getter, she’s always attacking, always in your face, really annoying to play against, really persistent and aggressive, always attacking. … I’m a defender and she’s a center, so we’re always guarding each other.”
Says Aria of Makenzie: “She’s really a calm, collected player and I think that works to her advantage, because she’s very competitive and she works very hard and she’s super dedicated, but she does it in such a way, calm, that you would never know she’s mad on the inside or frustrated. … She has a knack for defending really well and then going up the pool and scoring. She’s one of the best defenders I’ve ever played against.”
Makenzie said U.S. coach Adam Krikorian sat down with her almost two years ago to ask her to focus on defense.
“He said he saw that as my way onto the team,” she said.
It’s been a switch she’s been happy with. She enjoys harassing opponents to the point of frustration, while also getting to contribute on offense.
Aria brings energy as well as an ability to score.
“I never stop working and I think that can benefit the team at times, just by wearing down the players I’m playing against,” she said.
Because both sisters are extremely competitive, their daily matchups in the pool can be problematic. Like typical siblings, they don’t hold back against each other.
“I definitely get more frustrated going against her than someone else, just because we have that sibling rivalry, too,” Makenzie said. “I don’t want her to beat me because she’s my younger sister, though she clearly wants to beat me. It definitely gets heated at times.”
Away from the pool, they talk about the team and water polo, but try not to discuss their matchups.
“We start talking about it and we start fighting about who did what,” Makenzie said.
Once they get to Rio de Janeiro, though, they’ll be using that energy against opponents. Aria said to be able to share the whole Olympic experience with Makenzie is something she’s grateful for.
“I have been playing with her my whole life, and to get to play at the highest level with her, I feel like it’s another step in our journey together,” she said. “It’s really cool to share this.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.