Issaquah Eagle is chosen to swim for Olympic pipeline team

April 17, 2012

By Christina Lords

Sierra Hoffman, an Issaquah High School junior, puts her arms up to block a shot during practice with the Rain City Water Polo team April 12 at the Mercer Island Country Club. By Greg Farrar

It’s a known fact that when water polo players from the Pacific Northwest travel to California for training and camps, they tend to stand out.

For their hard work and ethic, yes, but also because their skin can take time getting used to the summer sun.

But when 16-year-old Issaquah High School junior Sierra Hoffman is busy following her dreams, she doesn’t mind getting a little burned.

After recently traveling to Miami to compete in the Olympic Development Program’s regional championship, Hoffman was selected as one of two goalies from 14 teams nationwide to move on to the Olympic Development Pipeline National Team.

“It’s really nerve-wracking especially because you start to recognize the people that are there watching you,” she said. “You can’t let them get to you. The coaches were there for the youth national team watching and they introduced themselves. It gets difficult because you really can start thinking about it too much.”

She’ll participate in a rigorous national team selection camp in Huntington Beach over Memorial Day weekend as she vies for a spot on the senior national team.

Members of that team can then go on to compete internationally in places like Canada, Hungary and Australia and represent the United States at the Olympic Games.

“I love the feeling of seeing how far I can go,” Hoffman said. “It’s one thing to play a club sport casually, but to really participate in something like this … I just really want to push myself to see where it ends up.”

And Hoffman, who has been playing water polo since seventh grade and swimming competitively for longer, doesn’t take anything about what she does casually. After she realized she didn’t like the feel of competitive swimming and its racing environment, she knew she still needed to find a home in the water.

That’s when she discovered water polo.

The team she’s dedicated to and competes for now isn’t even in this state.

She competes with the Tualatin Hills Water Polo Club, based out of Beaverton, Ore., taking the Amtrak train down to tournaments where her teammates pick her up from the train station.

When she’s not there or somewhere en route, she can still be found in the water, practicing four nights a week at the Mercer Island Country Club with the Rain City Water Polo team.

She has started working with a personal trainer three times a week and has recently taken up mountain biking to increase the power and strength in her legs.

Danielle Hoffman, Sierra’s mother, said the competitive nature and limited infrastructure for the sport in this area means her daughter travels to Oregon and elsewhere from June to August.

“Over the summer, especially when I’m training for the Junior Olympics, I’m there for five weeks and I go to California for four weeks,” Sierra Hoffman said. “It’s basically my whole summer.”

Summer-time practices can mean as much as training three times a day for five days out of the week.

Sierra Hoffman said that although she has found a passion for the sport, there are sacrifices she and her family have made so she can keep following her dreams.

“It’s hard because I don’t get to spend time with them over the summer, or hang out with my friends back home,” she said. “But I’m close with my team so it’s nice having them around. We’re like sisters.”

Danielle Hoffman said being in the Olympic pipeline is helpful for another major goal for Sierra — playing water polo for a Division I school.

“It’s very good for prospective colleges,” she said. “It means she’s on the radar everywhere.”

Sierra Hoffman said she hopes to continue to improve on her strengths in the water, including blocking penalty shots, communicating with her teammates and honing in on her powerful arm. (She can throw the ball 25 meters — nearly the entire length of the field.)

“She’s able to get up to her waist out of the water,” Danielle Hoffman said. “She’s got long arms. She looks like a bear coming at you. She’s fairly intimidating to other players. She’s very modest now, but she can be very aggressive in the pool.”

Christina Lords: 392-6434, ext. 239, or newcastle@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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