Pitt Meadows water polo player Monika Eggens will soon be competing at the pinnacle of her sport – the Olympic Games.
Eggens has been a member of the Canadian National Women’s water polo team for the past decade. The team qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics after winning silver at the Pan American Games in Peru in the summer.
“We missed out of qualifying for the last two Olympics by one goal,” she said. “So to qualify was definitely very exciting.”
Eggens, 28, has been living in Montreal and training with the national team.
She is the 2019 Hometown Hero, becoming the 44th inductee, joining the likes of Larry Walker Jr., Cam Neely, Greg Moore, Karina Leblanc and Tyler O’Neill in the ring of honour.
Posters of the Home Town Heroes are hung in local schools, as role models for aspiring students.
Eggens first wore the maple leaf in 2007 at the FINA World Junior Championships and has been a senior national team mainstay since 2009.
She is the third oldest player on the team, but right in a player’s water polo prime, and her veteran savvy shows.
“You definitely get better as you get older. The game slows down for you,” she said.
Monika and her older sister Carmen were both on the national team in 2009. Now retired and working as a Vancouver police officer, Carmen Eggens was a great player in her own right.
Swimming is in their genes. Their mother Cathy Eggens and aunt Gerri Willms competed as swimmers internationally.
Theirs was one of the founding families of the Haney Neptunes swim club.
The women played water polo at a time when the sport was not well organized, but they would drive to Simon Fraser University for scrimmages and were still competing internationally at the masters level.
Their love of the pool was passed on.
“I’m pretty sure I could swim before I could walk,” said Monika Eggens.
Her childhood was spent at the pools in Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, either practicing, playing or watching her sister.
After entering the sport at the age of six, Monika grew into a dominant player with the Pacific Storm club team, and was the most valuable player at the Canadian under-18 nationals in 2007.
After graduating from Pitt Meadows secondary in 2008, she went on to an athletic scholarship in a tropical paradise.
In her four seasons at the University of Hawaii, Eggens was a scoring machine. She became the school’s all-time leading scorer with 252 goals in 115 games.
She also set single-season records with 101 goals as a senior – it was a high mark for both the UH Rainbows and in the conference.
Eggens earned a kinesiology degree, then went on to play professionally in Europe, with stops in Greece, Italy and next Spain.
Professional water polo in Europe draws full crowds, fans who follow the teams and an exciting atmosphere.
“I’m really looking forward to going to Spain,” she said.
Eggens has been recruited by Club Natacio Sabadell, which has been one of the best teams in the country in recent years, with nine national championships since 2000.
She played against them with her Greek team and lost in a tournament championship.
Sabadell is a city about a half-hour from Barcelona. Their season starts in three weeks, and CN Sabadell will fly Eggens in from Montreal for key games.
She has thought about teaching elementary school, becoming a personal trainer, or even working in the sport when her water polo playing career is over.
However, for at least another season she will be going back to Europe to play professionally and working hard to keep her spot on the national team.
But she is not thinking that far ahead. She is training twice a day with the national team. The women are focused on the Olympics.
The U.S. is the favourite to win at this point, and the other nine teams that will enter the tournament are all close in calibre, she explained. She expects there will be a lot of one-goal games. She also expects Canada to win a lot of them.
“Our goal is to medal at the Olympics, and I think we have a good shot at it.”
As decorated as she has been as an athlete, Eggens appreciates being named a Hometown Hero.
Her locker at PMSS near the gymnasium, and on the walls were posters of the many Hometown Heroes.
“There were a lot of amazing athletes,” she remembers. “Then I remember when my sister got it, and it was pretty cool.”
“It’s a big honour.”