March 4, 2011
This season's women's water polo squad is putting an emphasis on making everything count because for most of its players, their days as a Pacific Tiger are numbered.
The Tigers' 18-player roster includes eight seniors, who will tread the waters of Chris Kjeldsen pool for one last year. As a result, there is a higher sense of urgency among them. Their maturity level has also increased. The feeling is that they don't want to look back on their college careers and have any regrets due to a lack of effort.
"Everything (we do) will be the last time," said Meara McCarthy (Simsbury, Conn).
All eight players will be graduating this spring semester. Ironically, in their last season there isn't much sadness, but rather upbeat and positive vibes. Instead, they're taking advantage of the relationships they've formed.
"I think everyone's really enjoying each other to the fullest too because next year we're not sure where we'll be," added McCarthy.
This uncertainty about the future, however, hasn't always been the case. Back in 2008, head coach Megan Thomson brought in the freshman class that featured McCarthy, Kailee Bucknum (Mission Viejo, Calif.), Dara Tawarahara (Honolulu, Hawaii), Bethany Quertermous (Humble, Texas) and Siobhan Larsen (Mundelien, Ill.). They all knew where they were going to be for the next four years.
That same year, was also the last season that the women's water polo program had seniors. So during their sophomore and junior campaigns, they didn't have the athletes in leadership roles to look up to. In effect, they had no other choice but to look to their left and right at each other.
"We kind of took on the role of being the leaders of the team," said Bucknum. "We really raised each other."
"I think that's why our class is so close," said Tawarahara.
The core group remained intact until things began to shake up when sisters Allison and Mandy King (Benicia, Calif.), and Melissa Loper (Napa, Calif.) joined the team as transfers last season. According to McCarthy, there wasn't a problem with team chemistry.
"It was more of like bringing in two groups together," said McCarthy. "They just fit in perfectly."
In addition to spending time together in the pool, they've also spent the past two summers together. When they're not playing or studying, they're working. They all work at Chris Kjeldsen pool as lifeguards and even provide swim lessons.
"This is the closest our team has ever been in my four years by far," Tawarahara said.
In this development, they laid the foundation for the program. As a result, they've helped change the image of the Women's Water Polo sports - not just within the athletic department but the university as a whole. Last season, the Tigers won the Big West, which made the biggest splash among the school's faculty members.
"A lot of our professors didn't even know that we won and they were like `oh, well we should start coming out to your games,'" said Bucknum. Loper said that being diligent in the classroom has helped in building the team's reputation. "We're student-athletes, the `student' part comes first," she said.
As for the latter, the No. 19-ranked Tigers (6-3) are on a 5-game winning streak after starting the season 1-3. This weekend, Pacific will have a short two-game home stand when they host California Baptist on Saturday (Feb. 19) and Stanford on Sunday (Feb. 20).
The players, especially the seniors, would love to end the season on top. This means competing in the 2011 NCAA Women's Water Polo Championship - which would be the first year they're eligible to compete after they had to sit out last year due to changing conferences.
Regardless, the seniors feel they've had enough of an impact on their sport that goes beyond wins and losses.
"No matter what happens, we will go out with a bang," Tawarahara said.