FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) – Fresno State has several alums on the men’s side who are currently starring at the next level of their respective sports, and Natalie Benson thinks there might be several women on her current roster who have a chance to become household names as well.

“We talk about Derek Carr and Davante Adams and, you know, Paul George, and Aaron Judge, and all the success that has come off the men’s side of our program,” says the Bulldogs’ water polo coach. “But why not some of the women?”

Natalie Benson is a two-time Olympic medalist, having won bronze and silver medals at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics respectively. She was inducted into the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame in 2015.

She has also had extensive experience coaching USA national teams at the youth and junior levels, and now, in her sixth year at Fresno State, she is coaching a couple of international Bulldogs with Olympic dreams as well.

“Some people have no idea, and others are like, ‘wow, that’s really cool,'” says fourth-year junior Kaitlin Howarth.

Howarth and fifth-year senior Daphne Guevremont are among the best 15 or so players in their home countries of New Zealand and Canada respectively, which certainly has Guevremont’s college friends impressed.

“They all treat me as, like, their famous friend,” says Guevremont. “They all tell me like, ‘oh my God, I’ll be able to tell everyone that I have a friend that went to the Olympics,’ so I’m hoping to actually accomplish that, and be that person for them.”

Both Daphne and Kaitlin have played internationally as juniors, but they each got their first taste of senior international competition in early November when Daphne represented Canada and Kaitlin represented New Zealand at the women’s water polo FINA World League Super Final in Spain. They competed against many of the best teams in the world.

“It was an amazing experience,” said Howarth. “Every time we get to travel overseas and play games and represent our country, it’s always an amazing experience.”

Playing alongside her former Bulldog teammate, recent Fresno State player Emily Nicholson, Howarth got regular playing time as a defender for New Zealand in the tournament. Guevremont, who was the second-leading goal scorer for the Bulldogs last season, saw spot duty as a reserve for the Canadians.

Even though they were on different squads, deep down all three athletes were still teammates, in a way.

“We all ended up in the same hotel. It’s awesome to see everyone,” said Howarth.

“Whenever they would do something great, even though they were not on my team, I was like, ‘yeah, I play with them,'” added Guevremont.

Canada finished seventh and New Zealand eighth in the eight-team tournament, but both girls say they still learned a lot in Spain. That is a sentiment echoed by their Bulldog head coach.

“It kind of ups their threshold of knowledge and understanding of the game, and pushes them to be better than they currently are,” said Benson.

Kaitlin’s Olympic dream might ultimately hinge on New Zealand improving enough to get through its region’s dominant team, Australia, to qualify for the Games.

“I think we can do it, but it’s always still the possibility of how other countries do, that sort of thing,” said Howarth. “So I’m hoping for 2024, if not 2028.”

Daphne, meantime, is targeting the Paris Games next summer. On paper, Canada appears to have a better chance to qualify considering the country qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Games after a silver medal performance at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima.

Canada lost in the quarterfinals to the Americans in Tokyo. It was Canada’s first Olympic appearance in the sport since 2004.

“I’ve played water polo for 14 years now, and all these experiences (could) finally culminate in my biggest dream,” says Guevremont.

And if that Olympic dream becomes an Olympic reality for either one, their college coach would happily welcome them to water polo’s ‘Olympic’ sorority.

“As a player, hopefully I made some contributions to the sport,” said Benson. “But I love being at where I’m at now as a coach, because you can help more people reach their potential, and find their goals. And, so, that’s where I really thrive.”

Fresno State has appeared in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments under the leadership of Natalie Benson.

“I would be ecstatic if one of these kids made it, I’d be out there with my little poms poms and my signs and everything else,” she smiled. “I’d be super excited, but that’s why I do this, to support these guys and help them reach their dreams.

Daphne Guevremont and Kaitlin Howarth might not be the only current Bulldogs with a shot at the Olympics. Natalie Benson mentioned there are a few other players on her roster who also are hoping to compete for spots on their respective national teams.