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From Hungary to Westwood, Marcell Szécsi’s adaptability is key to Bruin success

Freshman center Marcell Szécsi raises his arm in a defensive position at Spieker Aquatics Center. (Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Amelie Ionescu

Nov. 8, 2023 4:20 p.m.

Despite making up only 16.1% of the nation’s top-ranked team, foreign-born Bruins have managed to shine in the pool.

Freshman Marcell Szécsi is no exception.

After scoring the first goal of UCLA men’s water polo’s 2023 season, the Hungarian center made a splash as the MPSF West/S&R Sport Newcomer of the Week on both Sept. 18 and Oct. 9. He touts three hat tricks and leads the team in earned exclusions.

He has continued to average just under a goal a game, with 21 total across the season. But even with this year’s results, coach Adam Wright said Szécsi’s journey has been harder than it appears on paper.

“How the game is called in Europe is very different than here,” Wright said on Sept. 17. “When we talk it’s like ‘We can’t change how they’re gonna call it here, so you’re gonna have to change’ and he’s been great about that.”

The adjustment to American refereeing proved a learning curve for Szécsi at first, as the freshman committed six exclusions before the start of conference play.

“It’s extremely tough for him, coming here,” Wright said. “He’s really doing his best to assimilate as fast as possible.”

But approaching the postseason, Szécsi has begun to mellow out, with officiating crews only calling the Hungarian for an exclusion once in the last seven games.

Szécsi hugs a teammate outside of the pool at Spieker Aquatics Center. (Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Szécsi hugs a teammate outside of the pool at Spieker Aquatics Center. (Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

The son of three-time Olympic gold medalist Zoltan Szécsi, whom he states is one of the athletes he most admires, Marcell Szécsi has already made a name for himself overseas, spurring Hungary to U18 and U20 World Championships victories and clinching junior league MVP for his club, UVSE.

In short, European water polo has ingrained itself into his life from early on, but the change in playing style is not the only difficulty Szécsi had to deal with in coming to Westwood.

Szécsi said alongside in-game pressure, being almost 10,000 kilometers away from home was a tough adjustment.

“The first month was really hard, just being away from home,” Szécsi said. “It’s a really different environment, but I’m getting used to it. The boys are super welcoming and, I really enjoy being here with the team and just being a Bruin.”

Community is a word various members of UCLA have touted as part of the key to its success, citing budding relationships and leadership on all grounds by both returners and newcomers.

[Related: No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo attacking duo leads by example]

Senior goalkeeper Garrett Griggs said the squad has noticed the effort his younger teammate has put into suiting the NCAA and specifically, the Bruin mentality.

“Marcell has been playing phenomenal,” Griggs said. “When he came over from Hungary, we hadn’t heard much about him… But after being here for a while you can really tell he’s buying into what we’re doing here, and it’s paying off for him.”

Griggs added that Szécsi hasn’t wavered in his attitude since he arrived in Westwood this summer.

“As a freshman, I wouldn’t have expected it (him to buy in), so I’m really glad to see that from him,” Griggs said.

As the postseason looms only one game away, Szécsi’s adaptability – both inside and outside of the pool – will move into full focus as the Bruins chase ring No. 122.

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Amelie Ionescu | Sports senior staff
Ionescu was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats, and a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
Ionescu was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats, and a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
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