Danijela Jackovich could have gone anywhere she wanted to play water polo, but the decision turned out to be a no-brainer.
“Why Stanford?” she said. “Why not Stanford? They’re No. 1 in water polo, and as far as I’m concerned No. 1 in academics.”
Jackovich, a senior at Lincoln-Way Central, signed her National Letter of Intent to play for the Cardinal, which won its second straight national championship in the spring, during the school’s Signing Day ceremony Wednesday.
Also signing letters of intent were softball players Michelle Kriegshauser, with Eastern Michigan, and Gabrielle Boerema, with Rockhurst University (Mo.).
“It’s a very exciting day,” Jackovich said. “I’ve been dreaming about this for so long.”
Jackovich will become a rare player from the Midwest to join the ranks of the elite college water polo programs, which are littered with players from California.
None of the four teams that advanced to the NCAA Final Four in May had an Illinois product on its roster, though NCAA Tournament qualifier Iona had several local players on its squad, including Sarah Hanly (Lincoln-Way Central), Devin Green (Marian Catholic), Alyssa Turza (Sandburg), Emma Martinus (Bremen co-op) and Rebecca Mathews (Homewood-Flossmoor).
Nineteen of the 21 players on Stanford’s roster for the coming season are from California, with the other two from Canada.
Cardinal coach John Tanner said Jackovich will be his first player from Illinois in 15 years at the helm.
“The last player we had from the Midwest was Alison Gregorka, from Michigan, and she became a 2008 Olympian,” Tanner said. “So I like our track record.
“(Jackovich) is a stud. We feel like she is powerful, durable, skilled and fast. The thing about her is when she seems to be great at things, she still wants to get even better.”
Jackovich hopes she can set an example for other area water polo players.
“I hope to prove that it doesn’t matter where you’re from,” she said. “I hope this will build girls’ confidence that no matter where they want to go play, it’s a possibility.”
It came as no surprise that Jackovich, the 2012 SouthtownStar Girls Water Polo Player of the Year, would sign with a major program.
“Since the first day I met Danijela I knew she’d be moving on to play major college water polo,” Central coach Karen Desruisseaux said. “She was a game-changer from Day 1, and she’s been an amazing player to work with.”
Jackovich, who chose Stanford over California, Michigan and UCLA, among others, has the highest GPA in her senior class, so academics were a big factor in her decision.“To me, academics were the biggest thing,” she said. “Water polo is just a bonus.”
Jackovich said she looks forward to the challenge of playing for a program that expects to win titles.
“For me, it’ll be very exciting,” she said. “I’ve always dreamed about winning championships. It will be great to have that opportunity, but it’ll also be very difficult to go there and try to uphold that tradition.
“It’ll be fun.”