Athlete of the Year: Danijela Jackovich, Water Polo Star

Danijela Jackovich was picked by reader's as New Lenox Patch's 2011 athlete of the year. The star water polo athlete is a scoring machine for Lincoln-Way Central and this year played for the Team Youth USA in Hungary this summer.

There aren't many people who can better personify the term "student-athlete" than Danijela Jackovich of New Lenox.

The junior is an All-State water polo player who's also on the U.S. Olympic Development Team, and she's currently ranked No. 1 in her class academically. Jackovich was .

When she's not in the pool, Jackovich is probably buried in a book to maintain her GPA, which her coach said was 4.812 on a weighted 4.0 scale. She also went to state with the Mathletes and is a member of the Science Club and the National Honor Society.

"It takes a lot of time management," she said. "I have to contribute a lot of it to swimming because the practice can be so tedious, staring at black lines for two and a half hours every night. There's a discipline and concentration you don’t learn in other sports."

Jackovich would know—she grew up playing basketball, track, cross country, soccer and volleyball, but the life aquatic is what stuck. Athleticism runs in the family: Her dad played football at Utah State and had a brief stint in the NFL, and her brother, Petar, plays water polo for the Air Force Academy as a freshman.

But she realized her talent in sixth grade, when she tried out for the Olympic Development Team and made the 12th-grade and under team.

"I was competing against girls five or six years older than me and realized I could do really well," she said. "They used to beat the crap out of me, no doubt, but that’s what made me better."

She's excelled in the sport, and in 2011 was the captain for USA Youth National Team, scoring several goals against Hungary. She spent two weeks there last summer and said it was an amazing experience, especially because Hungary is known for its water polo talent. Her experience with the Olympic Development Team has benefitted the Lincoln-Way Central program as well, coach Karen Desruisseaux said.

"Ever since she came onto the team she’s been a leader," Desruisseaux said. "We learn a lot from her about what they’re teaching at the highest level. The girls want to listen to her."

Jackovich scored an astounding 154 goals in 2011 and also had 192 steals, 59 assists and 33 field blocks. Her talent is one thing, but her coach loves the leadership she brings. Desruisseaux recalled a Braveheart-like speech Jackovich gave during an annual tournament at Stevenson High School that features some of the toughest competition in the state.

"We go up there knowing we might get our butts kicked," Desruisseaux said. "But we were so close with Nequa Valley, and it just felt good to be close. So during a break she just said, ‘Look guys, I want this win.’ It was very inspirational."

Her success as an athlete and a student stems from her goal to attend college on scholarship. But she knows a full scholarship can be tough to come by, and instead hopes she could get a half athletic and half academic scholarship. Jackovich plans to attend law school, but it's always been her goal to be in the Olympics some day.

"It’s always been my dream, and this year getting into the pipeline made me realize I just need to keep working hard and hopefully that dream will come true," she said.

Read about more great high school athletes from 2011:


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