Jovana Sekulic ’26, left, helped the U.S. win its eighth world championship in February.
Photo: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo
Sekulic took a gap year in hopes of earning a trip to this summer’s Paris Olympics

At Princeton, Jovana Sekulic ’26 was a star from the beginning, scoring a team-high 74 goals in 27 games for the women’s water polo team as a freshman in 2022. But when she was invited to try out for the U.S. national team in California that summer, she kept her confidence in check, not making any plans beyond the first weekend of training.

Adam Krikorian, the national team coach, read her name in the list of players invited for a second week of tryouts, and Sekulic said she was “through the roof, but I’m also like, where do I stay? And, I have no clothes!”

Sekulic sorted out the logistics (with help from a Princeton teammate’s parents, who lived nearby), and since then she has been on the fast track with arguably the world’s best water polo program. She took a gap year in 2023-24 to play for the United States in hopes of earning a trip to this summer’s Paris Olympics. (The roster will be named in June.) In February, along with former Princeton star goalie Ashleigh Johnson ’17, she helped her team win a world championship for the eighth time; no other nation has won more than two. 

Water polo holds a special place in Sekulic’s family, which immigrated from Serbia when Jovana was 11. She and her two brothers had played the sport before moving to the U.S., and her parents found a youth team in the Philadelphia suburbs where the three siblings could compete together. It was a difficult time for Sekulic, who was learning English and adapting to a new school. 

“The moment I got into that pool, I feel like I found … a comfort zone in this very uncomfortable setting that I was in,” she said. “It was kind of like my little escape.”

Jovana’s older brother, Matej, played goalie for the Princeton men’s team and is set to graduate in May. Younger brother Luka is a sophomore at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he plays for former Princeton coach Luis Nicolao. 

Playing on a boys’ team in her youth helped Sekulic develop speed, strength, and competitiveness, she said. Princeton head coach Derek Ellingson, who first saw her play as a 12-year-old, said Sekulic looks like she’s always expecting to score the next goal, even after a bad call or some other setback. “She has a motor that just doesn’t stop,” he said. “She has the will to win.”

In California, Sekulic lives with a host family, but much of the time she’s on her own, which was a change from her Princeton experience. “I was really struggling in the fall, but I don’t think I realized it,” she said. “I was kind of pushing it to the side … and I think that kind of reflected in the pool.” 

A trip back home to Pennsylvania and time spent training on campus allowed her to reflect and recharge. When she returned, she took a “nothing to lose” attitude and landed a spot on the World Championships squad, which was undefeated in its six tournament games in Doha, Qatar. 

In April, after another busy month of training, Sekulic and the U.S. hosted a series of international matches in California. She scored a goal in a 14-8 win over Australia April 9. 

Throughout her time with the national team, Sekulic has developed a close friendship with Johnson, her fellow Tiger and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. “She’s always there if I need to talk or I have my tough days,” she said, “and that’s really, really cool.” 

Olympic rings


As of early April, eight Princetonians have been selected to represent their countries at the Paris Olympics this summer. For the United States, Kelsey Reelick ’14, Claire Collins ’19, Emily Kallfelz ’19, and Nick Mead ’17 will be part of the rowing team. Undergraduates Hadley Husisian ’26 (women’s epee) and Tatiana Nazlymov ’27 (women’s saber) will compete in fencing. And Kareem Maddox ’11 will be part of the 3x3 men’s basketball team. Australian Tim Masters ’15 will row in the men’s coxless four.