Diving into women’s club water polo

The club excels in the pool while creating friendships outside the water.

Club women’s water polo went undefeated at its February tournament in San Luis Obispo. Next up is championship qualifiers April 13-14 at UCLA. (Dana Hammerstrom / Daily Trojan)

I think I would be really good at water polo. It seems simple: You just throw a ball in a net and try to score more points than the other team. But it’s not that simple. Water polo involves almost every muscle in your body. While guarding the other team, players also have to try to prevent opponents from scoring and simultaneously get the ball into their own net.

There is one key aspect I am missing: You’re doing all these things while trying to stay afloat and treading water. If I played water polo, it’d be like playing soccer without knowing how to run, which is physically impossible. My mind is blown by how these student-athletes can perform all of the tasks of throwing the ball, guarding players, and trying to keep up with the other players as they try to keep their bodies above the water and not drown.

Women’s club water polo is the ideal example of nearly perfecting this difficult sport.

Led by co-presidents Sofia Vaca, a junior majoring in computer science and business administration, and Hana Erickson, a junior majoring in quantitative biology, the women’s club water polo team has excelled inside and outside the pool this season in its 10th year of existence.

“I do find a lot of community in the sport,” Vaca said. “I made all of my current USC friends there and it’s just a good way to socialize and take your mind off everything else you’re doing at USC.”

Aside from socializing, the team also practices three times a week, which seems like a pretty tall task in the pool. Their practices range from conditioning to drill-focused practices to shooting and defensive techniques, ending with a hopeful scrimmage on Sundays.

Caitlin Miller, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, has been in the water her entire life. From starting swim lessons at the age of one to swimming competitively through eighth grade, Miller is still trying to be the best goalie she can be by doing her position-centered drills in practice.

“For me, specifically, I do a lot of jugs, so taking a gallon water jug and holding it over my head and emptying it,” Miller said.

Yes, she does that in the water while treading water.

These practices seem to be working for the Trojans, given they are No. 7 in the most recent Collegiate Water Polo Association’s Women’s Club Top 20 rankings. With a record of 6-2 in the first two tournaments of the season, USC has secured a No. 3 seed in the Pacific Coast Division Championship.

Things started well for the club team, as it went a perfect 4-0 in Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s tournament in the middle of February. Although the Trojans played each school’s “B teams,” or their second-best teams, it was still an excellent start.

“Our first tournament taught us a lot about our team chemistry and what needed to be done and what needed to change because we originally started with trying to do all these plays in the first tournament that really didn’t work,” Miller said.

Playing better competition in the second tournament at Uytengsu Aquatics Center, the Trojans went 2-2, but played close games against No. 1 UCLA and No. 5 Cal Poly, losing to the Mustangs in overtime.

“That transition in level was a good thing for us to experience,” Miller said. “It brought us together more as a team of knowing, ‘Oh this is what works, this is what doesn’t.’”

Now, USC faces the test of championships, to be held at UCLA, to hoist up its division’s trophy and head to Nationals. There will be numerous challenges in the Trojans’ quest for the division title given that they’re up against some pretty good teams: As with UCLA and Cal Poly, UC Santa Barbara is also nationally ranked, coming in at No. 10 in the country. The Trojans will need to beat two of those three teams to advance to Nationals in Texas.

But despite some stiff competition, Vaca doesn’t seem to be worried.

“I think we will come in first place,” Vaca said. “I do believe that this year, our team is very diverse in what people’s strengths are.”

No matter how this season shakes out for women’s water polo, the throughline between this club team and every club team on campus is having a good time playing a sport you love while making friendships that will last a lifetime.

“We just wanted to make a community where we allow girls to play and have fun,” Vaca said.

Darren Parry is a senior writing about club sports athletes and their messages in his column, “Coulda Shoulda Woulda,” which runs every other Tuesday. He is also an assistant sports editor at the Daily Trojan.

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