As the only senior on this year’s No. 1 ranked men’s water polo team, driver Zach D’Sa uses his experiences to mentor his younger teammates as they seek another run at the NCAA championship.
Born to a family of swimmers, D’Sa was introduced to the pool when he was only three months old. His water polo career began at age seven, with inspiration from his family.
“My brother was suggested by his swim coach to play water polo and I thought, ‘I’ll try it too!’” D’Sa said. “Once I tried it, I’ve loved it ever since.”
D’Sa’s passion for the game continued at Wilson High, where he achieved numerous honors including league Player of the Year. He also was a standout for his club team, earning the distinction of Long Beach Century Club Player of the Year. D’Sa credits his former coach, Robert Lynn, for helping him develop a deeper knowledge of the game during his high school years.
“[Lynn] taught me almost everything I know,” D’Sa said. “He played in the Olympics, he played here at USC, so I wanted to follow his route my entire life.”
Despite the mentorship of such influential coaches, D’Sa’s transition from playing water polo in high school to playing for one of the best water polo teams in the nation was difficult at first. He wasn’t accustomed to the team’s style of play, as his past clubs had never expected him to run plays.
D’Sa gained valuable experience as soon as his freshman year, appearing on the Trojans’ NCAA tournament roster in 2015. His game has improved each season. Although he scored 10 goals in his freshman season, he doubled this output as a sophomore and achieved a personal best 26 goals as a junior. This season, D’Sa has already posted 16 goals in 12 games.
“I think I’ve gotten a lot smarter and I’ve been able to read the game a lot better,” D’Sa said. “When I was first starting out, I talked to a lot of the older guys to learn from them because they knew the system better than me. Now I’m that older guy, so I have to pass down the knowledge.”
Taking on the role of team captain has given D’Sa many opportunities to share this knowledge. While his role in the pool is the same, he speaks up more often at meetings and games. During game time, D’Sa is nearly as vocal as the goalkeeper in pointing out opponents and situations that his teammates might not be able to see themselves.
However, his duties as captain are not confined to a single meeting or play-by-play situation.
He leads his teammates in the pursuit of a loftier goal: winning an NCAA championship. After three straight championship losses, D’Sa hopes for a victory in the final game in last season as a Trojan.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot from playing in three championships,” D’Sa said. “It’s really hardened me losing all three of them. But I like using my experience to teach these guys what it takes to get there, and I think I know what it should take for us to bring one back to ‘SC this year.”
The championship would be an important final milestone for D’Sa, who does not plan to continue his water polo career after college. Instead, his focus will be on academics; he intends to pursue occupational therapy in graduate school after graduating with a Human Biology degree.
“It’s weird how fast time flew and how I’m the old guy on the team,” D’Sa said. “I’m going to miss being with the team. The coaches have been great, they’ve taught me a lot. It’s going to be a huge bummer not being here anymore.”
D’Sa is excited for the rest of the season, and maintains high expectations for himself and his teammates. After a memorable come-from-behind win against Cal in the NCAA semifinals last season, he and the other veteran players have entered the 2018 season with confidence, demonstrated by their perfect record through 12 games.
“Our goal is to keep winning, keep playing together as a team, keep playing as a unit,” D’Sa said.