This past spring, Monica Chernoff (sophomore) joined the Filipino women’s national water polo team. The journey to competing at the national level began when her younger sister and mother visited Tufts University.
While Chernoff was already at Occidental, her sister and mother ran into a family friend on the Tufts University campus who told them that the team manager for the Filipino men’s national water polo team was looking for players.
Chernoff emailed the team manager, Sonny Sicat, telling him she was a collegiate water polo player with Filipino heritage. Sicat then contacted the men’s national Filipino coach and worked to create the women’s team.
Since the team was starting from the ground up, Chernoff joined without having to try out. While the team has a small roster — 12 players of Filipino heritage and two native Filipino players — the opportunity for growth excites Chernoff.
“Maybe next year we can become more well known and people can start reaching out and we can have a tryout then, but now since we’re just developing and just started, it’s just us,” Chernoff said. “Which I’m really happy about.”
The team consists of players from several different colleges, hailing from parts of California and Arizona. Team members trained independently over summer and worked with their respective teams in the fall, but now meet occasionally as a team to build chemistry and scrimmage with other teams.
“Luckily, at these scrimmages, we’ve had really good competition come out,” Chernoff said. “At our first scrimmage, we had girls from USC, UCLA and a bunch of D-I college players come scrimmage with us which is really good competition.”
With everyone going to school in different areas, it is hard to gather regularly, Chernoff explained.
“We’ve had three times that we got together and practiced, but, overall, it’s tough because it’s not like we’re a regular team where we’re practicing every day,” Chernoff said.
The team faces another obstacle as their coach, Dale Evangelista, lives in the Philippines with the men’s national team. He has to Skype into the women’s team practices to coach.
“The coach from the Philippines has Skyped us while we’re in the pool,” Chernoff said. “Sonny would hold the camera and then the coach would tell Sonny what to do or tell us ‘do this’ or ‘try this position.’ It’s been really difficult but I think we’re just so excited. We all just love water polo and we just love our culture.”
Chernoff further emphasized how special this experience will be for her as it relates to her heritage and her family. Her mother lived in the Philippines until moving to New York for graduate school, where she met Chernoff’s father.
“She has a very special place with the Philippines,” Chernoff said. “I’ve been fortunate to travel there a couple times and visit my grandparents. The Philippines isn’t home, and so to see me — because I basically grew up an American — do something I love and also attach it to our heritage is really special.”
Chernoff’s parents are excited and proud of their daughter for more than her ability to play water polo at a high level.
“Her connection to the country is not only rooted with her mother being born and raised there, but Monica volunteering in middle school teaching every summer at a Filipino elementary school in a small town a few hours outside of Manila,” Scott Chernoff, Monica’s father, said via email. “This experience really solidified her love of the country and people.”
Chernoff’s mother, Josie, shared her husband’s excitement.
“We are so excited and proud of her to be part of this international competition and represent the Philippines,” Josie Chernoff said via email. “I’m so thrilled that she is embracing her heritage and promoting water polo in the Philippines and Asia.”
Monica Chernoff credited her Occidental family for supporting her in this journey. She emphasized the support she received from her teammates, especially in times of uncertainty amidst the new level of competition. Chernoff also credited Professor Myralyn Nartey in the Urban and Environmental Policy Department. Nartey played for the Ghana national women’s team. Like Chernoff, Nartey grew up in the U.S. and played collegiate athletics before playing nationally.
“She’s been helping me really value this experience,” Chernoff said.
Chernoff also praised her water polo coach at Occidental, Jack Stabenfeldt ’14, for his help and support. Stabenfeldt offered his own high opinion of Chernoff.
“She will be one of our leading goal scorers this year as a sophomore, but she brings so much more to the table,” Stabenfeldt said via email. “Her energy, humor and humility are contagious. Monica’s time with the national team will expose her to a high level of competition, which will, in turn, help her teammates at Oxy. I can’t wait to coach her in the spring.”
Chernoff flew to Thailand for the team’s first tournament Nov. 10. The Filipino team will compete with national teams from Australia, West Java, Sri Lanka and Thailand.