LOS ALAMITOS — Danielle Warde did not follow the same path as many of her teammates on the U.S. senior women's national team.
Growing up, Warde was known as a powerful and dynamic center at Edison High before graduating in 2010. But she was not a mainstay on the cadet, youth or junior national team rosters.
In fact, it was the opposite. She said she never made any of those squads.
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"I actually tried out for the youth team, the zone team, and I just never made it," Warde said. "It kind of shot my confidence a little bit, so I stopped doing it ... I just wasn't ready, I guess. I guess I was a late bloomer. Maybe I didn't think I could do it. I don't know."
But that doubtful teenager wasn't what spectators saw Saturday afternoon at the USA Water Polo national training center. What they saw was a confident, smart 20-year-old who was a sparkplug for Team USA. Warde, a Newport Beach resident and redshirt junior at UC Irvine, led all players with three steals as the U.S. women blanked Brazil, 10-0, in a FINA World League Prelims match.
Warde also had an assist in the win, which improved the Team USA women to 2-0 at the prelims. It has been quite a whirlwind time for Warde, who tried out for the senior national team just last weekend. She made the cut as a defender.
"It's a lot different than anything I've ever done," Warde said. "It was a lot of hours, obviously, and just a really good learning experience. I learned a lot in one weekend, and it's helped my game a lot already. I'm pretty excited for what's to come."
Warde is eager for the competition. She was a two-time All-Big West Conference first-team selection for the Anteaters in 2011 and '12, but she redshirted at UC Irvine this season. UCI Coach Dan Klatt, who also is an assistant coach for the women's national team, said Warde and two other players redshirted so his large freshman class could get more experience and playing time.
"I thought we could be a really good team the following year," Klatt said. "And I just thought it was what was best for the program in general. We were still really competitive. I was really proud of the way the team did this year.
"The way that she and the other girls [Jessy Cardey and Annika Bergesen] handled it was really impressive. It's hard not to play ... [but] they kept aggressive, kept in good fitness and really worked on their game. I think that's one of the reasons why she's here, even without playing that college season."
Klatt said he always believed Warde could make it on this national stage, playing alongside athletes who helped the U.S. women's team win gold at the 2012 Olympics in London. But that wasn't really the point.
"At this level, the training and the commitment is at the highest level," Klatt said. "It can't be about me wanting it for her. Of course I want it for her; it's about her wanting it for herself. I think she's matured to a point where she finally realizes, 'I can do this and I want this for myself.' And the older girls on the team have been great in terms of teaching her, embracing her and showing they have confidence in her."
The U.S. team certainly has its share of local players. Kelly Rulon, who recently moved to Newport Beach, had a goal and an assist in Saturday's win over Brazil. Corona del Mar High product Tumua Anae, another returning Olympian, did not start in goal Saturday after making six saves in Friday's win over Canada. Anae said she'd alternate with Betsey Armstrong throughout the weekend; Anae will play in Sunday's exhibition at 12:20 p.m. against "USA women's national team 2," which includes another former CdM goalie, Kate Baldoni (Stanford), as well as former Newport Harbor standout Kaleigh Gilchrist (USC).
Two-time Olympian Chris Oeding, who starred at CdM and also lives in Newport Beach, joins Klatt as an assistant to head coach Adam Krikorian.
The U.S. women, playing in their first matches since the Olympics, play Canada again on Sunday at 7:20 p.m. at Los Alamitos They then conclude play at preliminaries on Monday at noon, again against Brazil. Team USA then leaves next week for the FINA World League Super Final, which runs from June 1-6 in Beijing, China.
Lolo Silver, Jillian Kraus and former Laguna Beach High standout Annika Dries each scored two goals in Saturday's win over Brazil. Armstrong made six saves, and the Americans used an effective heavy press defense.
For Warde, who is the older sister of Newport Harbor junior boys' water polo player Ryan Warde, it's a lot of water polo in a short amount of time.
She said she was surprised when she made the team, but now she has that confidence in herself.
"It's just really cool," she said. "I get to play with the best of the best. I'm learning so much."