Splashing Onto the Scene
Twelve months ago, Danielle Warde was preoccupied with prom, graduation and the final months of her high school year. She was no longer thinking about playing water polo for Edison High School in Huntington Beach.
Tom Warde, Danielle’s father, introduced the sport to his daughter when she was 10 years old, and she instantly fell in love with it. Since then, Warde has worked hard and made sacrifices in order to become one of Orange County’s best water polo players. Growing up, she loved basketball and soccer but stopped playing those sports in order to focus on water polo. In high school, she excelled at track and field, but during her sophomore season she dropped it because she wanted to devote more time to the sport she loved.
Warde’s dedication and hard work paid off as Berkeley, UCLA and UC Irvine all expressed interest in her. At first, Warde wanted to attend either Cal or UCLA, but she gave UCI a serious look because of her father’s success playing water polo as an Anteater. Tom Warde was an All-American in 1988 and 1989; in 1989, during UCI’s national championship run, he was named the national player of the year.
“Knowing he went [to UCI] and did so well had an influence on me, but he never pushed me to come here,” Warde said. “That was all up to me.”
When it came time to decide, Warde chose to become an Anteater because of Head Coach Dan Klatt. Courtney Collyer, a current senior on the team, helped Warde make her decision to come to UC Irvine as well. Collyer told her that Klatt worked around the players’ school schedule and did not force his players to make the sport their number one priority.
“The major thing that made me come [to UCI] was [Klatt],” Warde said. “In my opinion, he is the best water polo coach and knowing I would be playing for him, I thought I would get the most out of water polo.”
As Warde’s Edison Charger days came to an end and her Anteater days quickly approached, anxiety overwhelmed the excitement she felt. Warde began to worry about moving out of her parents’ house, deciding what she wanted to do with her life and impressing her future teammates and coaches.
The biggest fear for the Edison standout, where Warde earned All-American, All-City and All-CIF honors in 2010, was a feeling that she wasn’t going to have the same success at UCI that she attained at Edison High School.
“I was nervous that I wasn’t going to be good enough – that was my biggest fear,” Warde said. “I knew I could play high school water polo, but I was nervous and afraid that I wouldn’t be able to play in college.”
During Warde’s first game as an Anteater, she scored her first goal against Concordia University, but according to her it was not a great indicator of her talent and not enough to impress her coaches and teammates.
“I don’t think I played well. I let my nerves get to me,” Warde said of her first collegiate game, “but now I know it’s not about impressing people. It’s about playing the game.”
After that, she focused on playing the game she knew best. A day after helping the Anteaters beat Concordia, Warde exploded for five goals against UC Santa Barbara, accounting for over half of the Anteaters’ scoring output and becoming the 14th player in UCI water polo history to record a five-goal game.
Warde hit a slump after her five-goal explosion, but she battled through her struggles, becoming one of the more consistent scorers on the team. As the season wears, Klatt has been impressed with Warde’s accomplishments.
“You see her do little things that make you say, ‘Wow,’” Klatt said. “She gets really high out of the water. She gets to the point where you can see her hips come out of the water, which is higher than most players. She is pretty precise as a shooter and puts away some nice shots.”
Although Klatt is impressed with his freshman standout, he continues to push her because, when it comes to Warde’s potential, the sky is the limit.
“I think she can be one of the best players in the country,” Klatt said. “I would really like her to have goals to be on the national and Olympic team system. There might be some players with more game experience but there is almost none who are as athletically talented as she is.”
For Warde, playing on the national team is a goal that she has set on her radar.
“I can’t see myself not playing water polo,” Warde said regarding her future after UCI. “I think I would try to get on the national team if I could or even play in Europe.”
Warde has not only earned the respect of her coach, but also of her teammates, as she leads the team with 35 goals. She has also handled moving out of her parents’ house with grace, and she loves living in the dorms.
As for her anxiety of not knowing what to do for the rest of her life, Warde is still working on that.
“I was originally going to do nursing, but I ended up not liking it,” Warde said. “I think I am going to go the business route, maybe business management or business econ., but I’m not sure yet.”
Regardless of Warde’s decision in the classroom, Anteater fans can look forward to her lighting up the UCI pool for years to come.