'Hungarian Newcomer Makes Goulash Out of Opposing Goalies'

  • March 10, 2005

It was snowing in Budapest while a tanned and freckled Gabriella Keri sat cross-legged on a table in the P.E. building on campus.

Keri--Gabby or Gab-Gab to her water polo teammates--said she barely knew the game just more than a year ago when she started playing with the California State University, East Bay, team.

Halfway through the season this year, the Hungarian transfer student is the leading scorer in the country, with 59 goals.

"It was a great feeling to be on the top," she said. "It took me probably a week to find out it's not the most important thing."

The bubbly business major, who was crowned Homecoming Queen in January, has something else on her mind: leading her second-ranked team to a Division III national championship.

In the meantime, she's trying not to dwell on the fact that this is her last season with the team she joined in pursuit of a Hollywood-like dream to play water polo in California.

"During the season we are pretty much 24/7 together," she said, with a slight Hungarian accent. "This is my last year. I don't even want to think about it."

Keri goes home every summer. She likes to see her family and friends overseas. But her heart has been captured by the sunny American state scrawled on her baby T" and its slang.

"It's beyond my expectations," she said of California. "People are friendly and nice and helpful. They are pretty chill, and it's rubbing off on me."

Her connection to California goes deeper than the flip-flops she wears every day, even in the rain, according to her teammates. She finds that she can express herself better in English than in Hungarian, her first language, and loves the way of life around her.

But water polo has been inextricably woven into Keri's American experience. Her teammates, who occasionally shout a Hungarian curse word during practice or games, likewise have grown accustomed to having her in the pool. And scoring.

Keri made 15 goals earlier this month in the four-game Pioneer Shootout, which pushed the team three spots higher in the rankings. This week she was named the Association of Division III Independents' female athlete of the month for February.

"Her growth as a player has skyrocketed over the last year," said Lisa De Rossi, the team's Australian coach. "She will listen, she doesn't complain, and she's willing to learn new ideas, and I think that's what has made her a great player."

Keri hopes to keep at the sport, possibly in Sydney, Australia. It's funny to think that not too long ago, while freezing at The College of Foreign Trade in Europe, she had this fledgling thought: "Water polo in California. That's famous. I should try that."


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