College Water Polo: Which Athletes Could Earn The Sport’s Highest Honor in 2021

ByAndrew Pistone

3 min read

College Water Polo: Which Athletes Could Earn The Sport’s Highest Honor in 2021

On September 2nd, six of the nation’s most accomplished collegiate water polo players will be up for the most coveted individual distinction in the sport. On the men’s side, the three finalists for the award are Jacob Mercep from USC, Nicolas Saveljic from UCLA and Nikolaos Papanikolaou from the University of California. On the women’s side, USC’s Denise Mammolito and Maud Megens are finalists along with Stanford’s Sarah Klass. The Peter J. Cutino Award is given to the best male and female players each season.

There’s definitely an international flair to this year’s crop of finalists. Four out of the six players were born outside of the United States, and have clearly made a name for themselves in the sport. Mercep was born in Croatia, and played for Jug Dubrovnik, one of the best water polo teams in the country while he was in high school*. He has a very interesting take on the differences between training in his home country and at the Trojans’ practices.

“I played for Jug Dubrovnik, and the practices were easier but more technically based than at USC,” Mercep observed. At USC, the practices are very hard, but there is complex analysis of ourselves, the opponent, preparation, mental toughness, mental aspects of the game.” Via USCAnnenbergmedia.com

Megens hails from the Netherlands, and represented her country in this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. Some might say that she was born to be a top water polo player, as her mother was also an accomplished competitor in the sport some 20 years earlier. Her mother played for the Netherlands in the 2000 Olympics, and the younger Megens was definitely cognizant of trying to put forth a good showing in Tokyo.

“If I don’t surpass her, I really don’t have to come home,” Maud said with a smile. Via Netherlandsnewsline.com

Saveljic grew up in Montenegro, and has completely rewritten the UCLA Bruins record books. He was the second leading goal scorer in the nation this season, putting 37 shots into the back of the net. He led the NCAA in steals this past campaign as well*.

“I want to thank my family and all the people back in Montenegro, back in Europe, who really supported me this entire way and who believed in me,” Saveljic said. Via DailyBruin.com

Papanikolaou spent his formative years in Greece before coming stateside to play for the University of California. In March, he took home a couple of impressive distinctions, including Newcomer of The Year and MPSF Player of The Year honors.

Mammolito and Klass are homegrown talents. Mammolito grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and actually didn’t really fall in love with water polo until she was already in high school.

“I started my freshman year of high school. My best friend wanted to try out, so I was like ‘OK, I’ll do it with you.’ So I made the freshman team at my high school, and it ended up clicking,” Mammolito recalled. Via DailyTrojan.com

Klass also hails from California—she grew up in Danville. She’s had a remarkable career at Stanford, scoring 137 goals. She also led the league with 67 sprints won.

The winners will be announced via a virtual ceremony.

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