ST. CHARLES – Olivia Traxler didn’t begin playing water polo until her freshman year of high school, but that hasn’t stopped her from developing into a top-tier talent.
Traxler, a 17-year-old St. Charles North senior, has spent a vast majority of her summer training with the Los Angeles Premier Water Polo Club.
She competed last week in the USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics in San Jose, Calif. The 18U girls team took sixth in the Classic division.
Traxler lived with a host family in early June up until recently. She balanced a big change from her usual surroundings in St. Charles by living in the heart of Los Angeles. She also had a grueling training regimen of hours-long practices.
Siba Filipovic, 16, also a North student, competed in his second Junior Olympics as a member of the Northwest Chicago Club. He swims with that club only for the Junior Olympics.
Filipovic helped the 16U team to a sixth-place finish in the invite division.
Other than that meet, Filipovic swims for the St. Charles Water Polo Club, as does Traxler.
“I’m always thinking: ‘This is going to bring so many opportunities for other people in my club to see,’” Traxler said of her experience in California. “Even someone from the Midwest can do it. You just have the heart and the right people surrounding you.”
Introduced to the sport by her brother, Traxler started out as a goalkeeper, but transitioned to being a field player. Her first coach, Nick Engel, apparently never doubted she was going to join.
“I didn’t even know I wanted to until I was in it,” Traxler said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I love this.’”
Filipovic, a versatile player position-wise, helped qualify for the Junior Olympics through a tournament in May in St. Louis.
According to the NWC website, it has participated in the Junior Olympics since 2012 and brought three boys teams this year.
“I really can’t find that much high-quality water polo in Illinois. Some kids don’t even go out of the state or even out of the country to play,” said Filipovic, who was named team MVP on the 16U team. “That’s where it’s high end. ... I like to show my best ability at what I can do inside the pool, [and] just to show coaches that a kid from Illinois can really kick some butt in California.”
Filipovic, like Traxler, has high aspirations to play water polo in college.
“To reach where I want to be in my water polo career, I have to fly to California. I can’t find that in Illinois,” Filipovic said. “Most coaches that come from Europe, they all go to Cali.”
In the meantime, Filipovic is headed to his next adventure in Serbia, a trip he also made last year. Filipovic will train with an elite team and get private lessons during his two weeks there.
Filipovic mentioned key differences between the playing styles of American versus European polo.
“European polo is completely different,” he said. “It is so much more aggressive and so much more physical.”
Chris Cloy, the head water polo coach at St. Charles North, sees polo as a “growing sport.”
Cloy runs the St. Charles Water Polo Club, which boasts about 70 members from ages 9 through 18. The club recently took three teams, 14U co-ed and 18U boys and girls teams, to the Great Lakes Classic for the first time in late June.
The 14U team went undefeated and claimed a division championship, which included a victory over a 16U girls team, Cloy said. The 18U teams went 1-3 for the weekend.
“[Water polo] is really an all-encompassing sport” Cloy said. “It really can be an outlet for kids that are athletic, [and] that want that ultimate type of competition.”