Stanford's Danijela Jackovich | Supplied photo
Updated: July 12, 2014 6:42AM
A couple of things have changed since Danijela Jackovich was last seen dominating Illinois water polo by leading Lincoln-Way Central to a state runner-up finish in 2013 and earning SouthtownStar Player of the Year honors her junior and senior years.
Jackovich moved halfway across the country to attend Stanford. She also goes by Dani now.
One thing that’s stayed the same? Jackovich’s winning ways.
The freshman was a key player off the bench, logging important minutes as the Cardinal captured the NCAA national championship. Stanford clinched the title, its third in four years, with a 9-5 win over UCLA on May 11 in Los Angeles.
“Growing up, I think it’s one of the dreams for any athlete to win a NCAA national championship,” Jackovich said. “To get it done my freshman year, it’s an amazing feeling. I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to do it with.”
Jackovich finished eighth on the team with 17 goals, including one in the national quarterfinal win over Indiana. She said her most memorable goal came in a March game against USC.
“USC was the defending national champion and we were coming off spring break so we had a whole week just to zone in on the game,” she said. “At halftime, my coach (John Tanner) was like ‘Dani, do your thing.’ He put me in and 50 seconds into the half, I got the ball and scored. That was my first big goal in a really big game.”
Jackovich’s success comes as no surprise to her coach at Lincoln-Way Central, Karen Desruisseaux, who said seeing a Midwest girl thrive on a national level serves as inspiration for players back home.
“Stanford is a great place for her and she’s just going to get better and better,” Desruisseaux said. “I think all our players want to be like her. She put Illinois water polo on the map. I think, especially in the south suburbs, she’s shown kids that there is a possibility to go places with water polo.”
With five key players set to graduate for the Cardinal, Jackovich figures to take on a bigger role next season. She’s determined to improve in the offseason.
“The biggest thing I need to work on is defense,” she said. “At Stanford, we play a very different defense from what I’m used to. You watch the seniors and they’re so smooth at it because they’ve done it for four years. It takes a lot of practice and repetition to get used to it.”
The future certainly is bright for Jackovich. The present isn’t bad, either.
“This first year has been everything I dreamed of,” she said. “I’ve dreamed of going to school at Stanford since I was 10. School-wise, it’s definitely challenging but there are so many people to help you. The polo was everything I expected and more. There wasn’t a single day this year I wasn’t excited for.”