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Men's Water Polo Q&A: Zack Rhodes

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Zack Rhodes is a senior goalkeeper for Pepperdine's water polo team. He recently received GCC Player of the Week honors. He explains what it means to receive that and how his senior season is making him feel:

Zack  Rhodes

Q: After your huge 17-save game against Long Beach State you were named GCC Player of the Week. What does getting this honor mean to you?

A: I was happy to receive it, it means a lot to me. But I was happier with how well our team was able to work so well together and stay on top of our roles. When everyone else does their part it makes getting saves and being able to do my job much easier. Without my team I wouldn't have gotten this. It is more of a representation of the entire team's work and proves what we can do at our full potential.

Q: Leading into the GCC Tournament, you are the reigning MVP and you guys are the reigning champs. Does that put pressure or anything on you guys to perform?

A: I do feel like there are certain expectations and we are held to a little higher standard having won it last year. It does put more pressure on us, but better than that, it drives us even more to repeat. For me I go into every tournament with the mindset of playing the best that I can and do everything I can. I am not focused on outside awards like MVP, I just want to be my best and help my team win.

Q: Who would you say your biggest competition is in the GCC Tournament?

A: The University of Pacific, who did get the better of us recently. But I feel like we were making little mistakes and if we fix that we will be okay.

Q: What happens if you win the GCC Tournament?

A: If we win the tournament we are then in line to compete for the NCAA title. But our focus right now is the GCC Tournament and we have to make it through that. Then we can start planning for NCAA Tournament.

Q: Being a senior what can you take away from your four years of water polo at Pepperdine?

A: That's a tough question. I feel like I have learned so much from water polo and it has been a tremendous growing experience. I have learned so many things in the pool that can be translated into real life. The biggest lesson is probably learning how important communication is. It's a necessity to stay on top of everything and communicate since the second you lose that communication you never really know what is going to happen. Another big thing I learned is effort. That you only get out as much as you put in. So if we all put in 100 percent, even if we lose, we can feel good about ourselves knowing we gave it our all.

Q: How does water polo and school work together?

A: Water polo is a huge help with time management, especially with all my homework. It has taught me how to work better in groups and that I always need to know my role. Whether it is in the pool or in a real life situation, once I learned what my role is it has made everything a lot easier.

Q: What does breaking Pepperdine's all-time goalie saves record mean to you?

A: I am really excited that I got that. It has always been one of my goals. Being a goalie you don't get much of a shot at scoring so it was nice to have something to strive for. I really wanted to leave my mark here and I believe I have by breaking that record and now setting it as high as I can make it. That I hope will in turn motivate new freshmen and new goalies to try and break my record and give them something to push for the same way it did for me.

Q: Who has had a big impact on you during your college career and throughout your life?

A: There have been so many people that have come into my life and helped me a lot. Merrill (Moses), my coach, has been very helpful during my career here. He has helped me stay focused and worked with me even when times are rough. It really helps because he can relate to me and he has very high expectations for me, which makes me want to keep pushing everyday. But the person who has influenced me the most is definitely my mom. She has been there for my entire career and been able to push me in the right direction. I can always talk to her and she always helps me get back on track. She is my role model. I just want to try and be a good person and do everything to the best of my ability like I know my mom would. She works hard for my brother and I and she has taught me that there is a lot you can get the harder you work.

Q: What is your favorite memory from college?

A: Winning GCCs was really a great time. Having every piece come together and winning a conference championship made us all feel so accomplished. Then going home after a long hard season knowing that our hard work had paid off. Being a part of that was a phenomenal experience, I couldn't have asked for more. Hopefully we have more experiences like that this year.

Q: How are you feeling about nearing the end of your collegiate career?

A: I have a bunch of mixed feelings. I am sad that it is ending but I have had probably one of the best experiences I could have ever asked for here at Pepperdine. I loved the team and the atmosphere. As bad as it sounds I am going to miss having to wake up at 6 a.m. to get to practice. The people I have met on the team have become my closest friends and basically my brothers. The hardest part will be not seeing everyone every day and having that three-hour stress reliever in the pool all working toward the same goal. I am happy that it did happen. I have learned so much and been so fortunate to be an athlete here at Pepperdine. The discipline I have learned and the ups and downs I have been through, it has all been a great way to learn and an even better foundation for life. Water polo and all its lessons have been a very important part of my journey through Pepperdine.

Charles Olsen, a fifth-year senior on the Pepperdine men's water polo team, has a lot of insight from his time here at Pepperdine. He shares with us his goals for the rest of the season and his plans for the future:

Charles  Olsen

Q: How has the season been going so far?

A: The season has been good. We started off pretty strong, but we were not playing the hardest teams. We were 9-0 to begin with. Then we started playing some really good teams. Our first hard game was against Cal and we played really well, and we only lost by a couple of goals. That was the first time we realized that we could do really well this season. We had more games where we only lost by one or so goals. I feel like we are there, we just need to figure out flow out a little more and play better from the beginning.

Q: How is the team preparing in order to repeat being GCC Tournament champions and trying to get to the NCAA Championships?

A: Our coaches have really emphasized the details. In practice, we would sometimes have 15 minutes to warm up on our own. We would not take advantage of that and just mess around. So our coaches have taken a stronger hold on how we are warming up and how we carry ourselves on and off the pool deck. They want us to focus on the times where it would be easier to just chill and relax, but instead use them to focus on opportunities that we are missing to improve our game.

Q: What are your personal goals for the season?

A: My personal goal is to be the best I can be. It is my last year, so I want to be remembered as someone who had grit and did not fold when we got down. I want to really believe we can win when we play a good team and do my best under a lot of pressure.

Q: What do you think your role on the team is?

A: I am not a starter, but I am usually first or second off the bench. My job is to go in for our captain Mark Urban, and play as hard as I can against his defender and swim his defender up and down the pool, bug him as much as I can, so that when Mark comes back in, his defender is too tired and Mark can get past him easily. I do score every now and then, but my main role is to go in and make Mark's job easier.

Q: What is it like being a fifth-year senior?

A: It is crazy. This morning at weights, this old song came on when we were lifting and it reminded me of the first month I was at Pepperdine lifting in the same gym. I looked at the freshmen, and thought about how quickly these years go by. It is about to be over, but it has been fun.

Q: What would you tell your freshman self, knowing all that you know now?

A: I would for sure tell myself to do better in school and to be smarter about who you confide in and trust. When I was a freshman, I hung out with whoever I met first. Those people were people who were not making the best choices, and I saw myself doing the same thing they were doing. I think it is important to take a long-term approach. You are going to have your fun in college, and there is no specific thing you have to do in order to have fun. I would tell myself to branch out more from the beginning.

Q: Do you have any post-grad plans?

A: I have a few. I want to be an FBI agent, but I have to have three years of professional experience before I can even apply. I need to go out and do something really well and then I can apply. I am thinking about getting an MBA or starting my own company.

Q: What made you want to be an FBI agent?

A: Both of my parents were FBI agents. My mom recently retired and when she was giving her retirement speech she noted how she got to have such an impact on the world and as a mother her job is to keep her son safe. She really felt that as she was doing her job, she was making the world a better place for me. I think it is really cool to have such a direct impact. I feel like both of my parents have really kept me safe.

Q: Looking back over the past years, what has been your favorite memory?

A: I feel like people want to say when we won the GCC Tournament, but it wasn't that for me at all. I actually did not play in that game. I did not play well the whole tournament and I understand why the coaches didn't play me and I honestly did not trust myself to play. That moment was really cool, but the best moments for me were more like the bus ride up to the tournament. We had dinner together and we would all stack up our phones in the middle and talk to one another. It was the little things that might not be the most fun in the moment, but those are the best moments to look back on. Winning is great, but what stands out more is the journey and they guys you become men with.

Q: Is there anything you want to do before leaving Pepperdine that you have not gotten to do yet?

A: If we could make it to the NCAA Tournament and give it our best that would be great. I think that is definitely feasible for us. In general, I want to meet as many people as I can before I am done. In the future I am not going to have this many cool and smart people around me all the time. It is so cool to make connections with other students and teachers here at Pepperdine.

Men's Water Polo Q&A: Marko Asic

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Junior attacker Marko Asic of the men's water polo team recently represented the United States in the World University games in Taipei, Taiwan. He shared with us his experience and plans for the new season:

Marko  Asic

Q: You recently played for the U.S. at the World University Games in Taiwan. How did you feel when you found out you were selected to play for the U.S.?

A: It was a little bittersweet because I knew that I wasn't going to be practicing with Pepperdine over the summer. But getting selected as one of 13 players to represent the USA was pretty indescribable.

Q: Can you tell me about your overall experience competing in another country?

A: It was fun! My favorite part about it was seeing how different countries play water polo. Japan is super unorthodox, Russia is very grab and go, and then there's Australia, which plays similar to how we do, but more driving and getting the ball to center.

Q: How did the team dynamic differ from that of the Pepperdine team?

A: We didn't have our first practice until five days before our first game. Then there's a team like Japan who have the same teams that they brought to the World Championships the month before and therefore had a lot of experience playing with one another. We kind of just came in guns blazing.

Q: What were the highlights of competing for the national team in Taiwan?

A: One highlight was being able to play against different countries. Playing in Taiwan was awesome in itself. We were able to play in a few different pools while we were there, but the championship pool had 10,000 seats in it and a huge camera for replays that would zoom in on you during starting lineups which was really cool.

Q: How did you feel about the outcome of the games this summer?

A: We got ninth out of 16, which I was pretty bummed about. We tied Russia in our group and they ended up getting second place in the whole tournament. Then we lost to Italy by only three points to get into the top eight and Italy ended up getting third place overall. We were right there along with everyone. We just had a bad game against Italy because we couldn't finish all the opportunities that presented themselves during the game. I think that if we'd had more practices together and time to prepare we could have seen a better outcome.

Q: How did you feel coming back from Taiwan and jumping straight into water polo season for Pepperdine?

A: It's been a grind this entire summer. I was living at home all summer training with the national team and our schedule included having weights at 5:15 a.m., then practice until 9 a.m., then another practice in the evening from 7 to 9:30 p.m. every day. Honestly, I got really burnt out this summer, but the best part was after it all, I got to come home to my family here at Pepperdine, which is reenergizing.

Q: How do you feel about this college season, especially coming off of last year's GCC championship win?

A: We are currently doing pretty well and I think we were undefeated over the summer as well, so we definitely have a huge target on our backs trying to defend our title.

Q: Do you have goals to play professional water polo after you graduate from Pepperdine?

A: Yes, it's been my dream since I was 10 years old, when I found out that I could play water polo as a job and that's what I've been putting my mind toward. Now, having grown up a little more, I'm wondering if I want to put my life on pause for however many years and possibly have to go back to school again. We'll see where I am after senior year, but as of right now it's definitely an option.

Senior Cristian Bridley and the Pepperdine men's water polo team are preparing for this weekend's inaugural Golden Coast Conference Tournament. Bridley tells us about his experience as a Wave and the team's goals for this weekend:

Cristian  Bridley

Q: Your regular season is now over, and your team is preparing to go to the GCC Championships. How do you feel the regular season went?

A: I think it went pretty well. We really needed to come together as a team, and I think that the regular season helped us do just that. It helped us find ourselves.

Q: As a senior, how has your leadership role changed throughout your years here?

A: As you get older, you have new guys that come in and look up to you, so you definitely want to set a good example. But you also still want to show them how to have fun during practices and games. A big thing is making sure that they know that even though we all want to win, you need to have fun. In order to win, we need to have fun and come together as a team.

Q: What have the teams of seniors before you taught you about that kind of leadership?

A: They taught me to always try to have a positive attitude and outlook on everything. You are going to win and you are going to lose, but it is always about the process. They also made sure that we always took what we learned into the postseason and bringing it all to the most important three or four games of the season.

Q: As you reflect on your time at Pepperdine, what do you think has been the most important lesson you have learned from either the coaches or your teammates?

A: I'd say that the most important lesson has been "Finish everything that you start." For me, I stopped playing for a while, but ended up coming back to the team, so that was the biggest lesson that I learned. I want to be able to finish the things I start. I want to see everything through, and be in the best mindset for everything that I come across.

Q: You mentioned that you left the team, and then came back. What made you want to come back after your hiatus?

A: The camaraderie is probably the biggest reason that I came back. I love all of the guys on the team, and that friendship and family attitude was something that I felt that I was missing out on. And, water polo as a sport is something I love. I missed playing the sport because I love to compete, and I love to win. Combining those two elements, it felt as though there was a pretty substantial void in my life.

Q: As you prepare for the conference tournament, what, if anything, has changed in practices?

A: During practices, we are focusing a lot on specific plays, and our defense. We really know how to play as a team, but it is just putting it all together. We want to get the specifics down and bring something that the teams haven't already seen. We play all of these teams during the regular season, so they know how we play, and we know how they play, so we want to bring something that will surprise them a little bit.

Q: This is your first year in the GCC. What was the competition like compared to the MPSF?

A: The competition is mainly the same except for the big four teams: Stanford, UCLA, USC and Cal. I think that we have a very good chance of winning this conference because all of the teams are right within each other's skill level.

Q: What can we expect from the Waves at the conference tournament?

A: I hope that we play well and come together well as a team. We have looked really good as a team these past few games, and I think that we have a good chance to bring it home.

Kenneth Keller, a junior attacker on the Pepperdine men's water polo team, tell us about the team's strengths and weaknesses, and how well he feels Pepperdine prepares its student-athletes for the outside world. The Waves are currently in Northern California getting ready to take on San Jose State on Friday and UC Davis on Saturday.

Kenneth  Keller

Q: How do you feel the season is going so far?

A: It is going pretty well. We have definitely had our ups and downs. The past few games have been tough, but we are definitely on the rise. We have a few big games this weekend that we have to overcome. We are still getting even closer as a team, which is huge for us.

Q: What do you think are your team's biggest strengths and weaknesses in the pool?

A: I think that our biggest strength is how close we are. We are like one big family, and we all really care about each other. We also have a pretty strong offensive presence in the water, which is good. Our defense has been lacking a little bit, so I think that is our biggest weakness right now. We definitely need to play better defense and be more aware of where guys are in the pool.

Q: How do you think that you can improve as a team to strengthen your weaknesses?

A: I think the biggest thing is communication between the guys. Like communicating when someone is driving or when someone is open; and talking to the guys behind you saying, "He's open." Communication is the core of our defense, and without that communication, we have some holes that we need to fill.

Q: You have a two game trip up north this weekend against San Jose State and UC Davis. How do you prepare yourself for those types of road trips both as an athlete and as a student?

A: First of all, as an athlete, we have the few practices before the game where we go to the whiteboard and focus on key players who we need to pay attention to in the game. We practice plays that the other team will run against us in practice, and go over what we are going to do in the game.

From a student standpoint, it takes a lot of communication also. Talking to your professors beforehand and letting them know that you will be gone. I will be missing two classes Friday because of the travel day. One of them is my math class, and the professor was really accommodating and is going to meet with me so I know what it is I missed and how I can catch up on it before the next class. Another big thing as an athlete is getting work done beforehand so you don't have as much to do on the road, but also being able to work on the road if need be to stay caught up.

Q: Are the professors in general pretty accommodating with you guys missing so much class?

A: Definitely. Especially now that it is my junior year, it feels like the teachers care a lot, and I know that I can communicate with them easily. With one of my teachers, I can even call him and he will talk with me if I am having any troubles. With all of my teachers, I know that I can email them and they will email back pretty promptly with answers to any questions I have. They really help me out when I need it, which is comforting to know.

Q: Speaking of being a student, how hard do you find being a student as well as an athlete at such a high level of academics and athletics?

A: My freshman year, it was definitely hard to find a balance, but as I have gone through the years, I perfected my own form of time management to be able to make time for the harder classes, find time to study, figure out tutoring times. It is really a lot of planning. Planning a week, sometimes even two weeks ahead for big assignments and tests coming up, and making the time to get those done. Being able to plan and have good time management is definitely a huge part of being able to play to your best ability, while also doing as well as you can in school.

Q: What do you plan to do after college? Do you plan on playing water polo professionally, or do you plan on heading right in to the workforce?

A: I actually am planning on hopefully getting into the five-year MBA program here at Pepperdine. If that works, I will do the extra year here at school. And hopefully after that, I want to get into either real estate or entrepreneurship, but I haven't decided between the two yet. I am looking at my options, and trying to figure out the best fit for me. So for me, it is probably going to be getting into the workforce rather than trying to continue my athletic career.

Q: How has Pepperdine prepared you for the hopes that you have for the future?

A: I think it has really prepared me well so far. Like I was saying earlier, time management is super important, and I think that college has really taught me that. It is going to be so important in the workforce. I also think that playing a sport in college has been incredibly helpful. Being able to handle getting up early, working with people toward a common goal. It's been great. From the academic side, the things that my professors have taught me are going to be invaluable in whatever venture I plan to take on. I think that I have had a lot of help and a lot of influential people who have helped me throughout my journey here at school.

Q: Finally, with the season winding down, what can we expect from the Waves for the rest of the water polo season?

A: Well, I can tell you right now that we are on the rise. It has been a tough start, but I think that we are changing our attitude as a team, and I really think that you are going got start seeing some more W's. And hopefully, when it comes to the Gold Coast Conference Tournament, we will win that and bring home a trophy. That is our biggest goal, and I think it is definitely an attainable goal. We just need to keep coming together as a team and really put in the work to get there.

Marko Asic, a sophomore on the Pepperdine men's water polo team, was the team's top scorer as a freshman and is once again on top of the chart this season. The 8-4 Waves will play their first-ever Golden Coast Conference matchup this Sunday at home against Pacific. We asked him about the team heading into this matchup:

Marko  Asic

Q: Conference season is coming up, with the first game against Pacific this Sunday. How do you think the early-season games have prepared your team for the conference schedule?

A: It is going to be a tough game this Sunday for sure. Pacific is ranked fourth in the nation, and we are ninth. More than just the conference opener, it is also our home opener, so there are a little bit more expectations, and we all hope that there is a good crowd that shows up.

Q: The water polo team is in a new conference this year, the Golden Coast Conference. Is there a different feeling knowing that the Pac-12 teams are no longer in the same conference as you?

A: Absolutely. It is a little better for us mentally, because we know that there is a really good chance of winning conference. Over the summer we actually beat Pacific in the finals of the Gold Coast summer tournament. It is now just an uphill battle to see how well we have pushed ourselves mentally and physically in practice and hope that it transfers to the games.

Q: How is the team confidence coming into the conference season, and what are expectations like in the locker room?

A: This year is a little different from last year, and even in years past. We have been getting to know each other as people rather than teammates who you play alongside during games. We hang out more outside the pool, and that camaraderie has transferred into the pool. We play a lot more for each other rather than just playing for yourself and racking up the stats. Each player tries to help the other out, and it's really been paying off. We had a great start to the season and hopefully we can keep this confidence going into conference play.

Q: You scored a team-high 45 goals last season. Is there an expectation of yourself to lead the Waves in scoring again?

A: It's not in my mind too much, honestly. Everybody in the pool is running the plays, and they happen to trust me with putting the ball in the back of the net. I take all of our penalties, which boosts those stats a little when the goals could have gone to other players. It is really them doing all of the work, and I am really fortunate that they put the ball in my hands to put shots on goal. I really am just a cog in a much larger machine that is our team.

Q: You are a sport administration major here at Pepperdine. What would you like to do after college with that? And is playing professional water polo an aspiration of yours?

A: I haven't really thought about after college too much. I kind of have a family history of playing water polo professionally in Europe, so that is definitely something that I would like to do.

Zack Rhodes, junior goalkeeper for the Pepperdine men's water polo team, gives us insight to his time here in Malibu. The Waves continue their season this weekend with road games at UCLA and Loyola Marymount.

Zack  Rhodes

Q: You guys had a good showing this past weekend. 4-0 is always a good result. How do you feel these games are preparing you for the conference season?

A: I think they are a good test for us. They are a good way to get a good base for the rest of the season. They show us what we really need to work on to get ready for the fiercer competition that we will see, as well as show us our strengths and in what aspects that we play consistently well.

Q: Your team gets to school earlier than most of the teams on campus. How did the pre-school year training help with the team bonding?

A: This year especially, I think that it is a really close team. I think that there is a lot of really good chemistry. I think that waking up early, while it isn't something that everyone likes to do -- including myself -- it is something that we have to do. Everyone is on the same page, so we all push through and make it as beneficial as possible. We really push each other in the weight room and in the pool.

Q: How have the freshmen meshed with the team? Were they able to jump right in, or did it take a little bit of time for them to find their groove?

A: I think that most of them were able to jump right in. It was a really good environment for them to join. There are a lot of really good things going on in the team. We had two of the guys, George and Nolan, with us for the whole summer, and two of them came at the beginning of the year, and they were able to get right into the groove of things and play right along with the rest of the guys. I think that they were able to adapt really quickly, and I also believe that this is a really welcoming team, so they were brought in quickly, and were able to help us in areas that we needed it.

Q: As the starting goalkeeper the last two years, what has your time been like as a Pepperdine student-athlete?

A: I think that for me personally, it has been all about development. There are a lot of things that I can work on as an athlete, and I am really realizing that it is a lot different than it was in high school. But it's been really good. I think that I have developed a lot, but I am always trying to develop further and get to that next level, and win a championship with this team.

Q: How have the past two years at Pepperdine been as a person?

A: To be completely honest, it has had its ups and downs, but it has definitely been mainly positive. I think that it has taught me a lot about how to grow as a person and how to adapt in different situations in order to get through things. I've really learned to keep what is important in focus, and use that focus to try to achieve my own goals. And to do that, I really have had to buckle down and work hard.  

Q: Were you recruited by other schools? If so, why did you choose Pepperdine?

A: I was recruited by schools like USC, UC Irvine, Pacific and UCSB, among others. When I came on my recruiting trip, there was a really tight team atmosphere and it was a lot different than any other team. Right when I came in, I could tell it was a really tight-knit team, and one that I thought I could come into and flourish. The coaches here are fantastic, of course. I am able to be coached by two Olympians, coaches Merrill Moses, and Terry Schroeder. There are just so many positives in coming to Pepperdine. There was so much I could learn as a student and as an athlete. It really gave me the best opportunity to grow and develop.

Q: What are your aspirations after all is said and done, and you leave Pepperdine? Do you want to play professionally somewhere? Do you want to just go into the workforce?

A: I'm not totally sure yet. I am still trying to figure that part out to be honest. I think that with a lot of it, whatever happens depends on what happens here at school.

Q: Finally, do you think that Pepperdine is preparing you well for that future?

A: I definitely do. It has taught me a lot, and I think that I can apply all that I have learned to the rest of my life and that it will help me move forward as a person.

Brock Liebhardt leads the Pepperdine men's water polo team in his fifth and final year of eligibility. He sat down and talked about the team this year, his coaching experience and watching assistant coach Merrill Moses playing in the 2016 Olympic Games:
Brock  Liebhardt

Q: You guys had a solid start to the year with two wins in the Triton Invitational. What do those early wins mean for the confidence of the team?

A: I think that they were really important. It was really important for us to start off well, and to come out and play those teams like they were UCLA, Stanford or USC. I think that these games pointed out a lot of what we need to work on as a team. We need to make sure we capitalize on the opportunities that are in front of us, and we need to minimize the offensive output of our opponents to really be successful this year.

Q: This is your fifth and final year with the Pepperdine water polo program. What has this program and this school meant to you as a person?

A: This program has been everything for the past four-and-a-half years. All of my friends, all of my mentors, they have all come through this program. This year, especially, is going to mean the most to me. Not only because it is my last year, but because of the other guys on the team, who I get to call teammates, mean so much to me.

Q: You also coach a younger club team, correct? How has playing water polo at such a high level helped you coach younger athletes?

A: Yes, I coach the Bruin Water Polo Club in the summer. My athletic experience has helped me with personalities the most. Coaching a lot of times is about coaching certain personalities, not always about finding the most skilled players and developing their skill, because with the best athletes, the skill will come over time. It is mainly about dealing with their personalities, and pushing them to get better.

Q: Adding on to that, what has coaching taught you about water polo as a sport, and how can you apply the lessons that you teach to the kids into your game?

A: It's great coaching the younger group of kids because it reminds me every day of what I need to continue to work on, which is the fundamentals. It is always coming down to the fundamentals. You can condition all you want, and be in the best shape of your life, but if you don't have a strong fundamental foundation underneath you, you are never going to be a great player.

Q: Your assistant coach, Merrill Moses, played in the Olympic Games this summer. What was it like watching someone you interact with on a regular basis play at the highest level of your sport?

A: It was awesome watching him. At the same time, it was really hard not having him here on campus over summer. His energy is really important for the team. However, at the same time, all of the guys understood that this is something that Merrill had to do to represent the United States of America at the Olympic Games.

 

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