Keeping it in the family: four sisters in Puerto Rican water polo team

Spare a thought for the play-by-play announcer at the world water polo championships:

"Puerto Rico's Angelica Ortiz Irizarry takes the ball, passes over to her sister Alejandra Ortiz Irizarry in front of the goal. Alejandra fakes, throws over to her other sister Cristina Ortiz Irizarry. Now it's over to yet another sister Amanda Ortiz Irizarry. She shoots, she scores!"

That's right. Four sisters are playing for the Puerto Rican team at the world championships. Back in their hometown of Ponce, Puerto Rico's second-largest city after San Juan, they're known simply as "Las Joses" because they all have "Jose," their father's name, as a middle name.

But wait, there's more.

"We have an elder brother (Jose Jr.) who played water polo," said Amanda Ortiz Irizarry. "We saw him play and followed him."

A back injury forced the 25-year-old Jose out of the sport, and he's now coaching the Puerto Rican junior team. He often helps train yet another water polo-playing sister, Maria.

Father Jose, who runs a clothing store in Ponce, is also the team leader of the national squad.

"I'm very, very, proud to have four of my daughters playing at such a high level," Jose Ortiz Irizarry said in a restaurant at the Puerto Rican hotel in downtown Melbourne. "They have all trained very hard to get here. They deserve it."

Amanda Ortiz Irizarry says having four sisters (Cristina is 22, Alejandra 21, Amanda 20 and Angelica 19) on the same team can be good - and bad.

"When we are down, we have the support of each other," Amanda says. "But it's bad because we often fight a lot when we practice. Scrimmages can often be interesting.

"But when that's finished, we laugh, we make jokes. We've been playing together for seven years, so we all have a pretty good relationship."

The sisters have a common love of water polo, but don't spend all their time out of the pool together. They attend different universities - Amanda is on a scholarship at California State Bakersfield, the others are in Puerto Rico.

Their musical tastes vary: Cristina and Angelica love "reggaeton," Angelica also likes flamenco and salsa. Alejandra is the most competitive of the four - "I like to win at everything I do."

Cristina played the saxophone until water polo training took up too much of her time. And Angelica considers herself the "funny" one of the group.

Alas, it's not been all fun in Melbourne.

Puerto Rico lost all three of its round-robin games by a combined margin of 52-7. It lost to Brazil - the team it will need to beat at the Pan-American Games in Rio de Janeiro in July if it wants to win a medal - by a score of 13-2.

The Puerto Ricans were then handed the biggest defeat in the history of the world championships, losing 26-1 to Australia. The team had an improved showing against Canada, the team it often trains with in Montreal, losing 13-4 on Friday, with Amanda Ortiz Irizarry scoring one of the Puerto Rican goals.

"You become a better player when you play the best teams," says Amanda. "We've never played Australia before, and they were a very strong team."

Cristina adds: "It is the first time we've ever played in a world championships. We'll be better next time."

Jesse Vassallo, a former world record holder in the 400-meter individual medley who is now president of the Puerto Rican water polo federation, knows his team will improve - with plenty of help from the Ortiz Irizarry sisters.

"We've only got 50 girls playing water polo in Puerto Rico, so to get four from one family playing on one team is really something," Vassallo said.

He also is impressed with how they handle themselves out of the pool, reports AP.

"The other night after they lost so badly to Australia, I could hear them talking at the table," Vassallo said. "They were saying now they know how much harder they have to work to be competitive, to be among the good teams. They turned it all into a positive."

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