Natalie Golda, who went from a girls’ water polo newcomer at Rosary High School to a star player for UCLA and the U.S. Olympic women’s team, is enjoying the latest chapter in her life.
She’s known as Natalie Benson now, a married mother of two and the women’s water polo coach at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
If you’re not familiar with either name, all you need to know is Benson was recently inducted into the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame.
“Maybe I have issues with my age, but I feel a bit young for that type of honor,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve got a lot more in front of me.”
Benson, 33, is hoping to build as much success walking the deck as she did in the pool, which would be a tall task for any coach. She has won at every level as a player, something few women can claim.
The apex of Benson’s playing career came at the 2008 Olympics, when she led Team USA to a silver medal. She captured bronze four years earlier and gold medals at the FINA World Championships in 2003 and ’07.
While at UCLA, she guided the Bruins to three NCAA championships and was named the best collegiate player in the country in 2005, when she led UCLA to a 33-0 record.
Not bad for a girl who never played water polo prior to entering Rosary in the fall of 1996.
Golda was never one of the fastest swimmers at Rosary, the all-girls’ school in Fullerton, but knew how to lift her upper body high out of the water and owned a rocket right arm with pin-point accuracy.
Benson says the experience at Rosary went beyond athletics. The environment helped mold her as an adult.
“Being in a single-gender setting for four formative years of my life was very important to me and what I ended up doing,” she says. “I was empowered to be myself, empowered to be a big, strong athlete and made to feel good about who I was and what I did.”
Benson carried that confidence throughout her playing career and into coaching, a move that took place shortly after her international playing career ended following the 2008 Olympics.
Benson immediately began coaching the prestigious Huntington Beach Water Polo Club and, in 2011, her under-18 team won gold at the Junior Olympics, the first of several medals she earned in international youth competition.
Not long after leading the youth national team to gold at the 2013 Youth Pan American Games, Benson was offered the head coaching position at Marist College, which allowed her to spend more time with her husband, Eric, and daughters, Elise and Claire, now 5 and 2 years old.
Benson had seen and heard a variety of coaching styles in her years as a player; the tough and impersonal, the extremely detail oriented, the big-time motivator. She has taken bits of information from each and developed her own delivery style.
“I dance on the pool deck when I get excited, I really build it up when athletes do really well, I try to interject humor whenever it starts to get a little dicey,” she says. “I think you can work hard and have fun at the same time.”