Everything Maddie Musselman touches turns to gold.

Two Olympic gold medals. Multiple Most Valuable Player recognitions. Most goals in UCLA women’s water polo history. The list is lengthened increasingly.

Sport was inevitable for the senior in the red shirt. The Newport Beach, Calif. player was raised by an MLB pitcher and college football player. Mike O’Brien, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the 1,500 meter freestyle, was her swimming instructor when she first waded into a swimming pool aged three.

When she discovered water polo – a combination of a throwing sport like baseball with soccer and swimming – Musselman immediately fell in love. She wrote in her sixth grade yearbook that one day she would be an Olympian.

His play in the pool eventually earned him the honor of the nation’s top-ranked high school freshman. Musselman skipped his senior year of high school to train with the United States national team. She committed to UCLA in a rather informal phone call from her backyard as her sister, Alex Musselman, the Bruins goaltender at the time, was staring out the window.

On her 18th birthday, U.S. women’s water polo coach Adam Krikorian announced that Musselman had made the roster for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“What I think about most with Maddie is just her drive to improve, and that starts with a humble approach,” Krikorian said. “She still believes she’s nowhere near where she could be. She’s always looking to improve. She’s very open-minded. There aren’t too many people who are as coachable as Maddie.

After winning gold in Rio de Janeiro as a teenager and being named to the All-Olympic team, Musselman – then a freshman at UCLA – found herself at the Spieker Aquatics Center for the first time. .

“I hadn’t really experienced campus life, and I remember walking on the pool deck and walking around campus,” Musselman said. “I was like, ‘This is the place to be.'”

Musselman holds a ball while posing for a photo. (Courtesy of Anthony Liebig)

Its impact was evident from the first year. She set a freshman record at UCLA with 69 goals and recorded a team high in steals and sprint wins en route to winning the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Newcomer of the Year award. Musselman was also the first player in conference history to win both MPSF/KAP7 Newcomer of the Week and MPSF/KAP7 Player of the Week in the same week.

After Musselman’s first season, coach Adam Wright was hired to lead the Bruins’ women’s program in addition to leading the men’s team. moulder and Wright immediately bonded over their national team experience.

At the end of her second season, Musselman was sidelined through the summer and fall following shoulder surgery. She said the adversity she faced during the rehabilitation process at Westwood underscored how much she loved the sport of water polo and representing the Bruins.

In her junior season opener against UC Irvine, Musselman recalled putting on her UCLA cap for the first time after rehab and being filled with a sense of Bruin pride as her friends , his family and coaches watched from the pool deck.

“It made a lot of sense to me because I didn’t realize how much I would miss it, first, when I got out, and then, second, to do it with a group of individuals that I hold so very proud of. said Musselman.

At the end of the season, Musselman made the decision to put his senior season on hold to train for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But when the pandemic pushed the Olympics to 2021, Musselman was forced to take a second season. consecutive away from Westwood.

When she finally made it to Toyko, Musselman led Team USA with 18 goals – including a hat trick in the gold medal game en route to another Olympic gold medal – and finished third overall in rebounds. She was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

But being out of the Bruins for two years, Musselman was expected to return to UCLA as a sixth-year senior on a team that contained mostly new faces and playstyles.

Senior center Ava Johnson, who has become one of Musselman’s closest friends outside of the pool, said the intensity and experience Musselman has brought to UCLA practices this season has elevated the team, as the players tried to emulate their habits and characteristics.

Despite Musselman’s reputation for wanting to win in the pool, Johnson said she’s one of the biggest darlings who would do anything for the people she loves. Even with his fierce competitiveness in the pool, Musselman has provided a sense of tranquility for the Bruins this season with his vocal leadership.

“She’s definitely a player that someone can go to in the middle of the game, and you look her in the eye and immediately know you’re good, and you can be calm because she’s going to walk you through it. “, Johnson said.

Using his voice to direct hasn’t always been easy for Musselman. She said growing up she tried to lead by example, but with the weight of her experiences on her shoulders, Musselman took it upon herself to grow as a coach in the pool.

“When I speak, I’m really engaged and present,” Musselman said. “It allows my teammates to trust me and allows me to help them. If I’m not talking, then it’s a little more frantic. I just give them a little more confidence, and I think that comforts me. So I just try to talk and talk and talk, even if it gets boring.

More than halfway through the season, the Bruins hosted their first alumni game after several years of cancellations due to the pandemic. During the contest, Musselman became the bridge between players from years past, many of whom she played with as freshmen, such as Rachel Fattal and Kodi Hill, and new players such as freshmen Molly Renner and Emma Lineback. .

“I was sitting on the wall and I was like, ‘This is so cool,'” Musselman said. “Just the connection through the water polo community and then specifically UCLA water polo and all the legends and all the amazing studs that have been a part of it and are playing here on the alumni team.”

Musselman has finished his red shirt senior season with 69 goals, matching his career high of his first season. She also led the Bruins in steals, assists, sprint wins and blocks on the field.

Wright said despite the end of his career at UCLA, Musselman should aim to continue playing professionally until the 2028 Summer Olympics.

“We were lucky she decided to come back,” Wright said. “Obviously she’s a special player. She has a few years to prepare for Paris (in 2024), and I think she should potentially continue even through ’28. She has time.

While Musselman said it is currently one of her goals to compete in the 2024 Olympics, she is taking things one step at a time and keeping the door open for a change of plans.

“Obviously I still really love the sport and have a lot of passion for it,” Musselman said. “Paris will just be another unique experience that a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to have. I want to go through this process and travel again with a whole new team.

(Daily Bruin file photo)
Musselman tugs at the strings of his cap. (Daily Bruin file photo)

But before returning to the Olympics, Musselman has a different goal.

UCLA graduate with a degree in physiological sciences, Musselman long dream of becoming a doctor. She followed doctors through high school and the Tokyo Olympics.

Never afraid of blood or surgery, Musselman said she’s always been drawn to helping people.

The 23-year-old has enrolled in a post-baccalaureate program – which is designed to support the transition from completing undergraduate studies to enrolling in professional programs – at Temple University for next year.

Musselman also plans to start studying for the MCAT as she decides what form of medicine to pursue. Although undecided on a specific discipline, Musselman said she loved children and was drawn to labor and delivery or pediatrics.

“I’m really excited to talk about the medical field because it’s happening sooner than in the past,” Musselman said. “I feel like it’s always been something a bit more distant for me, but I feel like it’s starting to happen.”

Musselman is thrilled to dive into the simple fact of being a student. She said the school has served as an outlet outside of water polo this year, and little things like walking around campus, meeting people outside of her water polo team and participating in a lab group have been among his most rewarding memories.

With an academic year looming, Musselman said she’s excited to get a fresh perspective on college.

“I’m very grateful to be a student-athlete, but I’m also interested to see what that (strictly student) perspective looks like,” Musselman said. “I will continue to train, technically I will still be an athlete, but I won’t be wearing this athlete backpack, so it will be a bit different.”

As her time in Westwood draws to a close, Musselman reflected on how she felt the first and last time as she walked along the pool at the Spieker Aquatics Center.

“The day I walked for the first time and when I left the pool for the last time, I felt the same pride,” Musselman said.

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