The Rio Olympics took its toll on collegiate women’s water polo last year, and UCLA wasn’t immune. Three of its veteran players redshirted last year with hopes of making the senior national team.
One of the players was redshirt senior attacker Rachel Fattal, who ended up making the roster and became Team USA’s go-to sprinter in Brazil. During her absence however, UCLA was left without a captain and leader, according to coach Brandon Brooks.
“She’s an excellent player and not only is she talented, but she shows up and works hard every day,” Brooks said. “She sets the tone in practices and games and a lot of people feed off of her and her energy.”
In addition to losing a captain, the team had to compete without one of the most productive offensive players in school history.
Fattal currently sits fourth on the school’s all-time scoring list. This season, Fattal has been able to find the net 27 times, which is second on the team behind freshman attacker Maddie Musselman who has 32 goals.
Her very first year at UCLA, she netted 68.
“Since coming in she’s always had a good feel for the game and sees the pool really well,” Brooks said. “Now, she has the ability to make things slow down for her and take her time, and really draw things out and understand how to get a great shot instead of the first shot.”
Fattal currently has 193 goals at this point in her tenure. She is just eight goals away from a tie for third place with Katie Rulon, and 44 goals away from the all-time scoring record, which is held by Kelly Rulon, who scored 237 goals over the course of her career.
Despite being aware of how close she is to this milestone, Fattal said she doesn’t give it any attention.
“I don’t think about it at all actually,” Fattal said. “Scoring goals is fun and all, but I’d rather pass. It’s cool and exciting I guess, but it’s something I don’t think about.”
Now that she and redshirt seniors Kodi Hill and Alys Williams are back with the team – Hill and Williams did not make the Olympic team, but still trained with it – the Bruins have the leadership they were missing during last year’s season.
According to junior attacker Nicole Reynolds, Fattal, Hill and Williams have boosted the team’s dynamic.
“It’s really great having solid leadership back on the team,” Reynolds said. “Just the experiences they bring back to the team this year really make everyone better.”
Last year, the Bruins finished third at the NCAA Tournament after losing to Stanford in the semifinals. When Fattal, Hill and Williams were all on the team, the Bruins reached the championship game in 2014 and 2015.
Last year, according to Brooks, the leaders on the team had not been in leadership roles for UCLA before, which took some adjusting. Brooks especially appreciates that there are four fifth-year seniors – redshirt senior center Alexa Tielmann is the fourth – on the team because of what they can contribute to the team’s success.
“That’s very rare,” Brooks said. “These girls have a lot of experience with the national team and just life experiences too as 22- and 23-year-olds.”
And with their experiences back in Westwood with the rest of the team, not only are the Bruins’ hopes for an eighth national championship running high, but the plausibility in the eyes of the athletes is as well.
“With them back this year, we have an incredible chance to win it this year,” Reynolds said.