The daughter sat and listened to the father.
This was May 2008 and Monica Vavic was in the lobby of a Northern California hotel near the Stanford University campus, the site where the USC women’s water polo team had fallen to heavily favored UCLA 6-3 in the NCAA championship game earlier that day.
Her dad, who also happened to be USC head coach Jovan Vavic, thanked his seniors for their effort after four tough, grueling seasons. For many of them, that day marked the end of their playing careers.
And so, as is customary throughout college sports, the coach said thanks as part of a tribute and farewell, wishing them all the best in their future careers, maybe in business, or in finance, or in communication.
His speech, as Monica recalls, was moving.
“When he was speaking, I just remember sitting there and realizing that there’s no one who cares about this more than he does — that I know of,” says Monica, who was 14 years old at the time.
For Monica, that was all she needed to hear. She couldn’t wait to come to USC and play for her dad, very well the nation’s premier water polo coach with 11 national championships and 11 national coach of the year awards while heading both the USC men’s and women’s teams.
She couldn’t wait, so much so that she graduated from Palos Verdes High School a year early and enrolled at USC as a wide-eyed 17-year-old in fall 2011, aiming to bring more hardware to the family’s South Bay home.
“No other school was an option,” says the 5-foot-8 driver with a flair for placing the ball in the back of the net. “USC was the place I wanted to go.”
For the Women of Troy, who have stumbled just once in 22 games this season and are ranked No. 2 in the national polls, her arrival has already paid off. Now a sophomore, Monica, 19, leads the team in scoring with 62 goals (the next closest being junior two-meter Kaleigh Gilchrist with 34). The season before, she was a first-team All-American, the first USC true freshman to earn the honor in 13 years.
This excellence has only continued.
In her latest effort, she scored on a cross-cage shot in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, taking part in an 11-6 win over No. 4 UCLA on Friday in the team’s regular season finale. It marked her 100th career goal, lofting her into a small group of USC players to achieve the feat by their sophomore seasons.
“She’s a very studious player,” Jovan says. “She’s not one of those people who’s going to go home and not think about it. She really prepares well. That’s her strength.”
By this point, it’s hard for even the tough-minded coach not to smile when asked about his daughter.
Jovan has watched Monica evolve into one of the premier scorers in collegiate water polo. She’s developed so rapidly that he doesn’t hesitate to suggest she could be an Olympian, possibly even as soon as the 2016 summer games in Brazil. Though of course, in usual fashion, the ever-demanding coach prefaced his declaration by saying she can only achieve this “if she commits fully to the training with the national team.”
Not to mention, on the men’s circuit, his son Nikola has helped key the Trojans to three NCAA titles over the last three seasons. The junior driver also remains a finalist for the Peter J. Cutino Award, the Heisman Trophy of water polo, after scoring a school-record 83 goals in 2012.
To say the least: Jovan’s offspring have given his programs an enormous lift, carrying that same nose-to-the-grindstone focus that’s brought quite a few wins.
When in the pool, they’re there to score. And to win.
“I think we both want the ball and we want to be in charge and to dominate,” Nikola says.
Jovan, who lined up at two-meter and driver during his playing days in the 1980s, sees those similarities, too, and the family resemblance.
“It’s interesting, because Monica is actually a similar player to me. Nikola, too,” Jovan says. “They’re both drivers and crafty. They both have my stroke, which is ugly. They’re not particularly gracious swimmers.”
Suffice it to say, they get plenty from Dad. Monica talks about how they, as children, played with Legos in front of the family television set while Jovan watched film from water polo practice.
They were immersed early, and have since stayed in. They’ve been his students for quite some time.
So perhaps, with the NCAA tournament on the horizon, Monica will become the next in the family to be fitted for a ring.
It’s why she rushed off to USC.
“The 19th Hole” runs Mondays. To comment on this story, email Joey at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dailytrojan.com.