By jenelyn russo     2/20/2015

Kayla Constandse is always up for a challenge. The Mater Dei High School junior and water polo player never shies away from competition. And who does she say is her toughest competitor?

“I think my biggest challenges are with myself,” says Constandse. “I’ve always been ‘the assist.’ A challenge I’m still trying to overcome is being that girl who they pass to and I finish. I have to be a bigger picture on our team…to be the girl who will step up in a game.”

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Constandse got her start in water polo at about age 11, a few years after she had begun swimming competitively. A background in swimming combined with joining a team where she was the newcomer in the pool gave Constandse all the motivation she needed.

“It jump-started me, to not be on the same level with the girls who had been playing a lot longer than I had,” says the 17-year-old. “It gave me an area that I could be good at and improve in other areas as I was going.”

In her third year as a starter for the Monarchs, Constandse has learned how critical it is to adjust to the play of her opponents.

“Every game is a new experience,” says the defender. “Every girl that you’re guarding plays a different way that you have to adapt to. There’s always something new that you could be learning.”

Her goals this season include increasing her role as a leader on the team, setting a good example and doing all she can to help her teammates.

“I see her as the main leader on the team,” says the head coach of the Mater Dei girls’ water polo team, Chris Segesman. “She does a great job with her attitude, with motivating the other girls and with her work ethic. Kayla is a special player. We’re privileged to have her as a part of the team and she does a great job.”

The Irvine resident has dreams to be able to take her skill “to the next level” and play college water polo and, beyond that, to represent her country at the Olympics.

That dream may not be too far off, as Constandse has already had the unique opportunity of participating in the U.S.A. Water Polo Olympic Development Program, an experience that has taken her all over the world, where she’s trained with and competed against some of the world’s most elite female water polo players, even winning a gold medal in a tournament in Argentina.

“When you stand on the pedestal and you get a gold medal with these girls, that’s something you won’t forget for the rest of your life,” says Constandse, “and you can’t break the bond you create with these girls.”