Team USA women's water polo will head to Rio this summer looking to defend their 2012 Olympic gold medal. When they arrive, coaches, teammates, and fans from a couple big time college programs will watch with not only pride, but anticipation as well. Anticipation for the day when several of these players return to the college game.
Eleven of the 17 women on the Team USA roster are from Pac 12 rivals UCLA and Stanford, mostly either on red shirt years to train for the Olympics, or incoming freshmen. These schools are the only ones with current players represented on Team USA, though Princeton and USC can boast some alumnae on the team, which also has a few high school players.
When the USA routed France in the qualifying tournament in Holland 19-0 last week to punch its ticket to Rio, the team's Stanford players were responsible for 12 of those goals, led by incoming freshman Makenzie Fischer's six.
— USA Water Polo (@USAWP) March 26, 2016
Fischer was a two-time California Interscholastic Federation player of the year at Laguna Beach High School, but has taken the year off between high school and college to focus on national team duties. Stanford is undoubtedly proud to see her in the red, white and blue, but eagerly awaits her arrival at The Farm.
"Makenzie is a comprehensively athletic and skilled player who is comfortable anywhere in the pool," Stanford Coach John Tanner said back when he signed Fischer.
The results of Fischer's athleticism and skill were definitely on display at the qualifying tournament in Gouda, Netherlands, where she was a dominant offensive force. In all, she scored 22 goals in eight games with four hat tricks, including one in the come-from-behind win over Italy in the final, which helps the team's seeding in the Olympic draw.
The USA was also dominant as a team, rolling through its eight matches undefeated, and outscoring opponents 123-34.
— USA Water Polo (@USAWP) March 27, 2016
Stanford will also be waiting for Maggie Steffens to return to the college pool. She's taking time off to train for Team USA duties, headed to her second Olympics having played on the 2012 gold medal winning team in London. Steffens, like Fischer, also delayed her entry to Stanford for a year and, like Fischer this year, quickly became the team's offensive star four years ago when she was the MVP of the Olympic tournament.
Steffens, who had 13 goals in the qualifying tournament this year, has one more year of college eligibility.
One of the goalies on the team is Stanford's Gabby Stone, who also is taking time off from the college team.
Another star in the Holland tournament was recent Stanford grad Kiley Neushul, who had 17 goals in the tourney, including five in a 15-7 win over Greece. Neuschul, a three-time NCAA champion, finished her Stanford career last May.
And Melissa Seidemann, who graduated from Stanford in 2013 and also won gold with Steffens at the 2012 Games in London, is back on the team headed to Rio.
Stanford won the NCAA women's water polo championships in 2012 and 2014, and are the current title holders.
And who did the Cardinal beat to win last year?
UCLA, whose players and alumnae make up much of the rest of the national team.
The Bruins squad in that championship game included current national team defender Alys Williams, attacker Kodi Hill, and All-American attacker Rachel Fattal, who led the Bruins with 56 goals last season.
"This was in my dreams for many years now," Fattal told UCLA's Daily Bruin. "It was always ‘2016 2016 Rio here we go’ so I can only guess how excited I’m going to be."
The Bruins are also anticipating the arrival in the fall of another member of the Olympic team, Maddie Musselman, who will be a freshman at UCLA.
UCLA was also the team that interrupted Stanford's national title run, winning it in 2015 under then-head coach Adam Krikorian, who now coaches the national team.
Bruins of the past are also well represented on the Olympic team, which includes UCLA alumnae KK Clark, Sami Hill, and Courtney Matthewson.
The United States is the only nation to medal in all four Olympic women's water polo tournaments since it was added at the 2000 Olympics.