Maddie Musselman only appeared at one major international tournament in 2022, but her performance there was enough for the overwhelming majority to agree that she is the best female player on the planet—for a second year running.
After winning the World Championships in Budapest seven months ago, Musselman took a step back from the spotlight to focus on her personal life. She ended her incredibly successful collegiate career at UCLA, and decided to pursue her other passion, medicine, by relocating from California to set up shop in Philadelphia. To add to the challenge, she had to recover from a minor injury. .
But, the break did nothing to dull her skills, as she made a splash in her return to the Team USA lineup for last week’s test match against Australia. Fortunately, it seems we can expect to see her in action quite a bit more this year, which is great for us, but we doubt it’s news that her opponents will be particularly enthusiastic about.
So, after taking a brief hiatus and being honoured with the Total Player Award twice in a row, we decided to reconnect with one of the most renowned athletes in the sport today, and reigning queen of water polo.
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As ever a figure of extreme gratitude and humility, speaking with Total Waterpolo, the two-time Olympic Champion believes that her latest personal accolade, the Total Player of the year 2022 Award, is the culmination of a wider team effort:
“It is very humbling to be named Total Player of the Year for the second year in a row. It is important that I thank all the people that have provided me with all the resources I need to be at the top of my game and continue to motivate me to be my best, day in and day out. It hasn’t been an easy journey, and so recognition of this award means a lot.”
The past year has been a journey of self-discovery for Musselman, and the American winger cites a renewed appreciation for the importance of a strong mentality as being a key for her development:
“The past year has had a tonne of peaks and valleys. As a player, the growth I had was immense, and my mental game has been something I have valued more and more. My last season at UCLA prepared me for the summer with the national team, and the transition back to the team felt smooth. After reflecting, the development as a team, as a player, and as a person is a part of the 2022 year that I am most proud of.”
Musselman’s biggest success in 2022 was certainly leading her team to a fourth successive World Championships title. Five goals from ‘Mussels’ (as she is known to her teammates) in the final in a 9-7 victory over Hungary, more than proved her status as the world’s most impactful player.
In the view of the MVP of that tournament, the triumph in Budapest is a shining example of how veterans of the team, like Maggie Steffens and Kaleigh Gilchrist, served as a guiding light, while the drive and ambition of the newcomers to the team ignited a fierce competition for their place in the squad, fuelling a boundless potential for the team’s future trajectory:
“The success of the summer is a testament to the standard of our USA National Team. It was really awesome to see the role of those who have had Olympic and National Team experience leading and showing what it takes, while also having very hungry and driven newcomers who have a desire to play at this level. It is easier as someone who has played at this level for quite some time to continue to show up and play when the younger players are itching to be in your spot and pushing you to be better. Therefore, I am excited to see what the future holds for this group.”
Team USA is always looking for ways to raise the bar even higher, but achieving the lofty standards and expectations set by the team that is batting for a fourth straight Olympic gold medal is no easy feat:
“The standard of this team and the expectations of how we approach training, games, and this process of making an Olympic team are not easy. You have to be committed to doing all the little things that are going to not only make you grow as a player but also put the team in the best position to be successful.
This programme has always done a great job of allowing us to control what we can control and have the mental focus and physical endurance to do everything that comes with our sport. I don’t think this summer was perfect by any means, but it was cool to see the experienced players and newcomers come together to have the success we had. We still have a long way to go.”
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The summer brought huge success, but according to Musselman, the team knows that true victory lies in the ongoing pursuit of perfection:
“Just because we won this summer, does not mean that we are satisfied with where we are at now and the growth we need to have.”
In part due to a recovery from injury, and in part due to a decision to take a break from the sport, Musselman didn’t play at the last edition of the World League Super Finals in Tenerife in November 2022, and while many raised eyebrows at a bronze medal finish for Team USA, Musselman was encouraged by what she saw from a young American side in those games.
“There were so many positives,” she commented. “It showed me the potential that this group has and that there is no ceiling for the growth that our team has.”
With her time at UCLA coming to a close before the summer, Musselman has moved from California to attend a pre-physician assistant program at Temple University in Philadelphia. Relocating has provided a change of scenery, but also a change in mindset for Musselman.
Musselman’s time away from the sport in Philadelphia has given the four-time world champion a great chance to reflect, which has rekindled the 24-year-old’s passion for her work, and heightened her motivation prior to the Paris Olympic Games:
“Being away from the sport for some time has provided a tonne of perspective and motivation. Working myself back from injury and focusing on my studies in Philadelphia has been an experience that has reignited a passion for water polo and for medicine. It makes me thankful for good health, family and friends, and a water polo community and team that care for each other. I know that my time spent doing this now will make me more prepared for when I return to training in hopes of qualifying for and competing in Paris in 2024.”
And while the Olympics in Paris in eighteen months is the clear intent, Musselman is poised to stay present:
“From a water polo perspective, it is about this moment right now and the preparation I need to do for this team, myself as a person and player, and to focus on this upcoming Olympic year. It is hard to see beyond Paris right now when there is still so much time. Personally, preparing myself with my studies now presents so many opportunities in the years to come.”
With regards to after Paris, Musselman remains open-minded, “It is hard to say where it may take me, but I am trusting God and my family and friends for guidance as each opportunity presents itself”.
As we embark on a new year, Maddie Musselman is making her way back to the top of the game. If she’s managed to improve even more since we last saw her in action, it’s hard to imagine anyone else deserving of the Total Player of the Year Award for the third time in a row.
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