Growing up in the epicenter of Orange County aquatics, Erika Figge was accustomed to practicing turns and swimming multiple strokes in an Olympic-style pool.
But one day, at age 9, she spotted a group of boys playing in the water with a yellow ball, and Figge’s athletic career, while it was promising in swimming, changed forever.
“I got involved with water polo after becoming bored with swimming,” Figge tells usawaterpolo.com. “I visited a boys practice and was hooked.”
She eventually joined the boys’ team and became the captain.
Figge, a former Santa Margarita High and USC women’s water polo standout, competed on Team USA for six years and is featured on Santa Margarita’s website as one of the school’s most prominent athletes along with NFL players Carson Palmer, Brian Finneran, Gavin Escobar and Kris Farris, NBA world champion and scoring record holder Klay Thompson and Olympic soccer gold medalist Amy Rodriguez.
The 5-foot-10 Figge, a fish as soon as she entered the water as a young girl, was a gold medalist at the 2007 Pan-American Games as a prominent player on the U.S. national team and silver medalist at the 2005 FINA World Championships. She was an alternate on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team that took silver in Beijing.
Figge, who became an assistant coach on the U.S. junior national team and served as Regional Technical Director for USA Water Polo for almost two years after retiring, was known internationally as a great goal scorer. She tallied eight goals in the 2007 Pan American Games, including a five-goal outburst against Puerto Rico in a 13-2 win for the Americans. Figge also found the net twice in the 2007 FINA World League Super Final.
“I am honored to have been part of such a wonderful and successful team for so many years,” Figge said in a statement when she retired as a player from USA Water Polo in 2011. “While I am sad to know that this chapter in my life is finished, I am very much looking forward to what is coming next in my involvement with the women’s junior team. When God closes one door, another door is always opened, and this situation is no different.”
A member of the U.S. youth national team in 2000 and 2001 and the U.S. junior national squad from 2002 through 2005, Figge was part of the U.S. junior national team that won a gold medal at the 2005 FINA Junior World Championships and the 2003 team that finished second. She made her U.S. senior national team debut in 2005 at the FINA World Championships, in which the U.S. earned a silver medal.
Figge, who is currently studying to become a chiropractor, was one of 12 USA Water Polo players featured on the cover of ESPN The Magazine in the 2010 “Body Issue,” which was “a celebration and exploration of the athletic form in artistic nude photography,” according to the publication.
At USC, Figge was team captain and first-team All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation her senior year in 2007, finishing her illustrious Trojan career with 133 goals, eighth on the school’s all-time scoring list. She was a finalist for the 2007 Peter J. Cutino Award, named after the former Cal water polo coach and given annually to the best player in the nation.
As a freshman in 2004, Figge scored 33 goals, which ranked fifth on the team in scoring, and earned All-MPSF Honorable Mention and All-MPSF Freshman laurels, while scoring a season-high four goals in the Trojans’ 8-5 win over Stanford in the championship match of the UC Santa Barbara Tournament. She was named second-team All-NCAA Tournament when USC captured the national championship.
As a sophomore, Figge finished fourth on the team in scoring with 32 goals, including hat tricks against Cal and Arizona State. She also received All-American Honorable Mention accolades.
The athletic and talented Figge, who scored 22 goals as a junior and 46 as a senior, was a knowledgeable and respected player and leader for the Women of Troy. She earned All-America honors in 2006 and 2007, in addition to many other honors, including being named an Academic All-MPSF Scholar-Athlete.
A four-time All-American in high school, Figge is considered one of the best water polo players to come out of aquatic-rich Orange County. In swimming, Figge was also a four-time All-American in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events for Santa Margarita.
Figge says she “loves water polo because it combines many different skills and concepts, including swimming, throwing, wrestling, quickness, strength, hand-eye coordination and team dynamics.”