Makenzie Fischer was a bit jet-lagged late Tuesday afternoon but still, you could color her mood golden.
The Laguna Beach High student-athlete, who begins her junior year next week, had just returned a day earlier from Volos, Greece, site of the 2013 FINA Women's Junior World Championships. Fischer and the USA Water Polo Women's Junior National Team were sitting on top of the world following the week-long tournament.
Team USA captured the gold medal Sunday by defeating Spain, 9-7, in the tournament's championship game. It marked the first time since 2005 that the U.S. had won the Junior World Title.
Team USA returned home late Monday, gold medal ribbons in hand.
"It was so worth it," the 16-year-old said of the experience, her spirits high despite being tired from the long, international flight home. "It's something I'll never forget."
Fischer scored one goal in Sunday's gold medal game. A utility player, she netted her goal with only seven seconds left in the first half, and it gave Team USA a 6-2 halftime lead.
"Winning the gold medal was an amazing experience," she said. "It was nice to see all the hard work and training we put in, pay off. It was definitely worth the effort."
Fischer said Team USA put in one week's worth of practice at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base pool before heading to Greece for the FINA Women's Junior World Championships.
Team USA's tourney journey began Aug. 19. Fischer scored twice in an opening, 14-4 victory over Kazakhstan. Team USA also scored subsequent victories over Italy (8-5) and New Zealand (12-5) to complete group play with a 3-0 record, giving the squad an automatic bye into the tournament quarterfinals.
In the quarterfinal round Aug. 23, Team USA outscored Hungary, 12-10, to move on to Saturday's semifinals to face Greece. Fischer scored once in that semi matchup, her goal capping a 5-0 run in the second quarter by the U.S. that led to a 7-2 halftime lead.
Team USA advanced to the gold medal game following a decisive, 10-3 victory over a Greece team that would go on to win bronze Sunday following a 7-6 win over Russia in the third-place game.
"The international competition was very challenging," Fischer said. "We went up against the best players in our age group from around the world. There was a lot of talent in the pool and there weren't any weak teams. The experience really showed me what it takes to compete at this level."
Fischer is no stranger to USA Water Polo. Last summer, she said she went on a training trip to Hungary. During the summer leading up to her freshman year at Laguna Beach, she was a member of the Cadet Women's Team that competed in Puerto Rico.
Fischer was the only high school-aged player on the 2013 USA Women's Junior National Team.
"I learned so much from the older girls," she said. "A lot of them are teammates on their college teams and it was great to be able to watch them play and interact. They worked well together."
Aaron Chaney, in his first year as an assistant coach with the Women's Junior National Team, said Fischer ended the FINA Women's Junior World Championships on a roll.
"She started off a little slow at the beginning but came on stronger toward the end of the tournament," said Chaney who coached the Corona del Mar High girls' water polo team from 2001-2010. "That's understandable, seeing as how she was the youngest player on the team.
"In the last couple of games, she scored in both the semifinals and final, played great team defense and helped out in situations when needed. I thought she rose above any doubts she may have had."
"Makenzie played really solid defense and is a really good shooter who isn't afraid to shoot. She has a lot of self-confidence in her game and is a really great competitor. I think that is what allowed her to come on strong at the end of the tournament. She has a bright future in this program."
Fischer, who played up a division and was part of the SET (Saddleback/El Toro) Water Polo girls' 18-Under team that competed earlier this month at the Water Polo Junior Olympics in Orange County, is a two-time All-Orange Coast League player and was the league's 2013 MVP.