The first family of Canadian water polo
The hockey world has its famous Sutter brothers, and Canadian water polo has the Eggen women.
Carmen and Monika are sisters on the national team, living in Montreal and training 30-plus hours per week to win gold for Canada at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Their mother Cathy Eggens and aunt Gerri Willms are also still swimming internationally.
All four women grew up in Pitt Meadows, as one of the founding families of the Haney Neptunes Aquatic Club – Carmen says her grandparents actually named the club after the Roman god of the sea.
The younger Eggens were competitive swimmers, then switched to water polo at about age six and seven.
“We loved it immediately,” said Carmen.
They became dominant players with the Pacific Storm, and Carmen was the MVP at the U-16 and U-18 nationals in 2005 and 2006. Her little sister followed in her wake, and Monika was MVP of the Canadian U-18 nationals in 2007.
“A big highlight for the both of us in our youth was playing water polo for Pacific Storm, and going to the nationals every year,” said Carmen.
Their time competing at the highest levels of the sport with the Storm would serve them well. Carmen graduated from Pitt Meadows secondary in 2006, and Monika in 2008, and both parlayed their talents into four-year careers at no less than the University of Hawaii.
Monika was also a talented soccer player and had a tough choice to make, but chose to swim with the family current.
They had decorated college careers. Monika became the school’s all-time leading scorer. She was named to the 2013 All American first team, and was the first player in school history to be named conference player of the year. She set school and conference records for most goals in a season, while also leading her team in steals. Carmen was their fourth leading scorer for the UH Rainbows of all time.
“We both were on the starting line all four years. Our highest ranking as a team with Hawaii was fourth place, but we often challenged the top teams to one goal, Stanford, UCLA, CAL and USC,” said Carmen.
She graduated in May 2013 and Monika in December of that year. Monika graduated in kinesiology, and Carmen in family resources and a minor in sociology.
Throughout their school careers, they continued competing for Canada, on the junior national team, then the senior team. They both took a year off school and lived in Montreal from May 2011 to May 2012, trying to get team Canada into the Olympics, but the team did not qualify for London 2012.
“Carmen is known for her shot,” says her national team bio. “Whether it is coming from the outside or a backhand from the center, there is no shortage of power in her game.”
Of Monika it says: “Dedicated, disciplined with a good work ethic.”
Carmen’s national team highlight so far was the 2009 World Aquatic Championships in Rome, where Canada took the silver.
“I was the youngest on the team and it was my first big senior trip,” she said. “It felt good to be a part of something so big and so early into my water polo career on the National Team.”
The road to London was another.
“The Olympic qualification tournament in 2012 in Trieste, Italy – even though we didn’t qualify, it was a great experience and something I will always remember,” said Carmen.
Russia beat the Canadians 7-6 to end their run to the Olympics.
“Not qualifying, and having that feeling at that tournament, is one of my biggest motivators. I never want to feel that way again in my water polo career.”
For Monika, the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico was one of the biggest highlights. It was also an Olympic qualifier. They lost their final game to the U.S., in one of the longest games in history.
“Playing in such a high pressure tournament was so incredible, the excitement leading up to the game and during is something that I will never forget,” said Monika.
“Also the atmosphere of participating in such a huge athletic event and representing our country on the world stage, just being in the village and around so many high caliber athletes was just inspiring and I hope to have the opportunity to experience it again soon.”
There’s lots on the horizon for the girls. The next big international event will be the Canada Cup in December, and next summer they will have the Toronto Pan American Games, and then World Aquatic Championships in Kazan, Russia.
Their mom and aunt competed at the World Masters Tournament in Montreal, and took silver medals with the Calgary Splash 50-and-over team. They train throughout the year with the Pacific Storm and Hyack Master s swimming.
So it’s possible the Eggen sisters have a lifetime of water polo ahead of them.