Catching up with USC Water Polo’s Paige Hauschild

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USC Freshman Paige Hauschild. Photo Courtesy: Jorge Daboub

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

In what is shaping up to be a surprisingly tight race to the top of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation’s women’s water polo conference, one team features a newcomer who threatens to tip the competitive balance. Paige Hauschild may be just 18, but in a matter of months she has supercharged a USC squad that’s had to contend with the prolonged absence of attacker Maud Megens.

Despite her youth—and surrounded by an impressive array of talent, including Megens, Brianna Daboub, Amanda Longan, Denise Mammolito and Hayley McKelvey—Hauschild leads the Trojans with 39 goals while adding contributing defensively to what may be the nation’s stingiest unit.

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A top performer in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), the best high school polo competition in the country, she spent last summer on the roster of the U.S. Women’s Senior National Team as they won gold at the 2017 FINA World Championship. While not getting much playing time on a deep American squad, exposure to U.S. Head Coach Adam Krikorian and players like Rachel Fattal, Kiley Neushul, Maddie Musselman and Maggie Steffens has served the 5-11 Hauschild well this season, earning her four MPSF Newcomer of the Week awards.

Swimming World spoke with her a few days after her team’s only loss of the season, 9-3 at the hands of Stanford. Things have changed in the MPSF standing since that match four weeks ago; Megens is back and contributing to the offense, and the Trojans (14-1) have reeled off four straight wins. But one thing has remained constant; USC’s freshman phenom has continued to lead the way—and may be an X-factor if Jovan Vavic is to win a sixth women’s national title. 

– It seems like you had many sports options growing up. How did you come to choose water polo?

Both of my parents are very athletic and competitive, so I was always very involved with sports. I did swim team at a local athletic club and, living by the beach, I was always in the ocean with my dad.

I joined junior lifeguards, which was a big thing, because the girls who were the fastest swimmers and the most athletic were water polo players. That was really appealing to me and I became friends with them. I was always a pretty good swimmer, but swimming wasn’t my thing, so I was looking for something more exciting. Water polo was the next step.

– You obviously took to polo! You’ve had a successful entry to a demanding sport.

I was shy and when I started water polo and didn’t know the rules. I played for Santa Barbara 805, a really good team, so I took a back seat to some of the older girls I played with. But my club coach had me playing up; when I was 12 I’d play both 14 and under and 16 and under.

A handful of the older girls on the club went to past Olympics and many of them played at top colleges. I learned a lot from them, and playing at higher divisions really helped me excel and improve my game. I’m lucky my coach, Cathy Neushul, did that for me.

I started Olympic Development Program (ODP) when I was a freshman in high school. I showed up to my first zone training and went from there.

I went on a training trip to Hungary with the Cadet team—it wasn’t a tournament so we scrimmaged with the Hungarians in our age group. We got to watch the European Championships because that was going on in Hungary at the time.

That’s where things really took off for me. I had a great time—going into it I was so intimidated by the girls and didn’t know if I could make the team. I did make that first team I tried out for and that was a real confidence boost.

In the summer of my sophomore year I tried out for the youth national team. We trained that year in preparation for the youth world championships in New Zealand the following year. I went there in December of my senior year in high school.

– This summer with the national team you got to play with Brigitta Games, who just graduated from USC. How was that helpful in your transition to becoming a Trojan?

Paige Hauschild 2018

Photo Courtesy: Figge Photography

I didn’t know Brigitta super well coming into USC. I had played with her here and there. We became friends this summer with the national team, and before going to USC I did talk to her. Amanda Longan was also on the national team and she’s here right now [starting goalie for the Trojans]. They’re super knowledgeable and I hung out with them on the national team a fair amount.

It was fun to learn about them and pick their brains about differences and similarities between what we were practicing with the national team and what were would do [at Southern Cal].

I also got the chance to speak with Kami Craig [former Trojan and three-time Olympian] when she retired. When I was deciding where to go to college she was another person I looked to for advice.

– You had many options for college; how did you end up at USC?

I started off looking at a ton of schools—I even got letters my sophomore year—but it really started when I was a junior. UC Santa Barbara was one of the schools I spoke with [but] I always had my eyes on Cal, UCLA, USC and Stanford.

Stanford, USC and UCLA ended up being my top schools—I was incredibly lucky to even have those as options. I did talk to Serela Kay [UCSB head coach] and my brother Shane was a Gaucho for water polo.

I love Santa Barbara. It would have been nice to be there and close to my family but there were things that other schools provided that I was more interested in.

Growing up, I never saw myself going to USC. The Neushuls are an important water polo family in Santa Barbara—my coach is Cathy—and all the Neushul girls went to Stanford.

Plus, a lot of the older girls [from Santa Barbara] went to UCLA—like Sami Hill—and I had a couple of friends who went there. So I heard a lot about UCLA and Stanford. Not so much USC—I didn’t have a ton of friends there at the time, which is influential. You hear about schools from your friends.

But, once I went on my recruit trip and talked to Jovan and his coaches—Casey [Moon] and James [Shin] and Pinta [Marko Pintaric]—I felt really drawn to USC. And once I completed all my research I just knew it was the place for me.

Stanford and UCLA are amazing schools so it was a really tough decision saying “No” to Stanford and UCLA.

I loved the team and the coaching staff and the location—not too far from home which is convenient—and I’m stoked to be here.

– You’re a freshman and emerged as one of the top scoring options for Coach Vavic—but it may be your ability to learn the Trojan defense that may be key to USC’s season.

Defense is super key for us. Good defense always fuels good offense—that’s something Jovan emphasizes. We have one of the best goalies in the nation as the backbone of our defense and can play with more confidence knowing that Amanda’s got your back. Having that voice behind us, directing our defense, is super key for our team.

There are a ton of similarities between how the U.S. National Team and USC play—there’s definitely differences too. Things I learned over the summer have translated well into what Jovan has been teaching us.

The defenses, and the plays we run, are very similar, but a big thing for me playing here is what Adam [Krikorian] and Jovan have wanted me to start practicing, which is being 2-meter defense. That’s been an adjustment for me, trying to learn a whole new position.

Generally, everyone knows how to defend center because eventually all of us get stuck there—whether you like it or not!

– How has this been going?

I’ve had a lot of strong role models—center defenders—to teach me on the national team. Watching what they do and hearing the feedback afterwards has been very helpful. They’re things I can put in my back pocket.

We also have some super strong center defenders like Hailey McKelvy, who’ve I’ve been watching. She plays for the Canadian National Team who brings different points and things that haven’t been taught before. it’s cool to be learning from players who play for different countries and have different styles.

It’s hard playing center defense against some of the tough players other teams have, but so far it’s been working out alright.

– You’re now working with two of the best coaches in the world—Vavic and Krikorian. How do they compare in their temperaments and approach to the game?

There’s some undeniable differences between the two—especially in how they get their message across. Adam’s usually reserved—he has his moments—[but] typically he’s more calm compared to Jovan. That’s the big difference.

A lot of people are intimidated by Jovan’s style of coaching. He’s vocal, very blunt and he’ll tell it like it is. People have asked me if I was prepared for this. He’s an honest guy and will tell you what most people don’t want to hear but if it’s in your best interest, he won’t hesitate in telling you what you need to know.

He’s very knowledgeable, and if you listen to what he’s saying and ignore the delivery… Jovan’s a very smart guy with a lot of different ideas than Adam does about how to play the game. The way he coaches works very well for me.

Adam obviously is a very knowledgeable coach as well; one of the best coaches in the world.

Both of them are looking out for your best interest, and although they do have different deliveries and different ideas about how to play the game, they both have the same goal and they both achieve it! They’ve both been very successful coaches.

– What will it take for the Trojans to make a run at the NCAA title this season?

We’re for sure going for gold; we want to be #1. One of our best players is injured [Megens missed 10 games earlier this season]; playing without her has forced some of us to step up. In a way that’s been beneficial for our team, as were trying to make the best out of a difficult situation.

We’ve had good wins against Cal and UCLA and a tough loss [to Stanford two weeks ago] which we put into perspective about what we need to work on. You never want to lose or play how we did this past weekend but we’re going to take it as a learning experience.

Our defense will be key, and in practice we’ll focus on that and on capitalizing on our opportunities.

We have a fact team so counterattack is big for us as well as finishing off opportunities that are given to us.

Jovan always says that being creative and working well together… game time together is really important in building chemistry.

He knows what it takes to win a national championship; we need to believe we can do it, trust in our coaches, work hard and we can get it done!