ANNAPOLIS -- First, ask the average American to consider playing an hourlong basketball game in 10 feet of water. Then, wait for the hoots.
But Water polo, bizarre to most, but a game of endurance, conditioning and skill -- plus no small amount of the physical -- is just taking hold in the United States.
That the sport has long enjoyed popularity in Europe and elsewhere makes such a surprise of the performance of the fledgling U.S. national women's team in the first World Junior Championships.
The Americans, mostly teen-agers with a distinctly Maryland cant, are holding their own after two days of competition at the Naval Academy. A win over New Zealand today (9 a.m.) at McDonough Hall would advance the U.S. (1-1) into tomorrow's 3 p.m. championship.
That would be a rematch with powerful and physically-imposing Quebec (2-0), which pulled away late to beat the U.S., 7-4, yesterday. Quebec is now 2-0-1 vs. the U.S. since last summer, but has scored only four more goals in the three games.
The Americans opened by bombing 0-2 Brazil, 15-4, in another 'A" Group game Wednesday.
Coach Brent Bohlender must deal with New Zealand (2-0) and tournament leading scorer Leah Wistrand, but said that he always anticipated playing two games vs. Quebec.
And, "They're larger and essentially stronger than us. The intimidation factor is there," he said.
However, according to Carrie Basye, who graduated from Annapolis High School two weeks ago, that was not the big problem.
"They were strong and fast and really physical. I'd say we were a little bit nervous because it was a big game," said Basye, whose driver position corresponds to that of a basketball guard. "But we don't get intimidated. Our shots just didn't go in the cage."
The U.S. dominated on offense, but scored on only four of 20 shots, with three goals by Robin Van Winkle, 17, of Turlock, Ca. The other was by Courtney Young, 17, of Salt Lake City.
The U.S. was still in a 4-4 tie after the second quarter. Quebec did not get the eventual game-winner until Cora Campbell scored with 8 minutes, 51 seconds to go.
More efficient shooting, which was emphasized by Bohlender after the game, could make the difference vs. a New Zealand team that Navy men's coach Mike Schofield says "has two to three players as good as any we have, but is maybe not as well-rounded as Quebec."
Six of Wistrand's nine goals came against the U.S. "B" team that is "significantly weaker," than the "A" side, said Schofield, who introduced water polo to the local women when they competed for the Navy Juniors swim team three years ago.
Vicki Gorman, one of three other Marylanders on the 13-player roster, said that despite yesterday's defeat: "We think we can win it all. We seem to have a little bit more speed -- the United States is known for that -- and can use it to good advantage."