by Nate Silva
The bittersweet four-year journey of the University of La Verne’s women’s water polo team is ending in the same fashion for the first complete class of the program. Seniors Maria DeSantis, Tandis Morgan, Summer Hammons, and Andrea Griffith conclude their water polo careers this year, each having started with the birth of ULV’s program and ending with graduation.
The four seniors have struggled through the lean years of the program’s infancy and have forced it to maturity this year with senior leadership and determination.
Hammons, who had never played water polo before getting to La Verne came here as a swimmer and was talked into trying the sport by Griffith, said of their freshman year, “We really lacked experience as a team,” she said.
Many of the players that year had never played the game before or hadn’t played in years, but were given the opportunity to try water polo at the collegiate level in the spring of 1999.
The lack of experience would change in the following two seasons as the players would stick with the program, gaining experience and familiarity, both in the pool and with each other.
The four seniors have grown very close over the course of their careers, but feel they would still be friends even if not for their common sport.
DeSantis says though, “I don’t think we’d be on the same level.”
For the past year, DeSantis, Hammons, and Griffith have lived together in their Foothill Boulevard apartment. This has added to the team chemistry.
“Being friends outside the pool makes it that much easier to show up and play your best polo,” Hammons said. “It just wants to make you not only play for your teammates, but also your friends.”
The four women have led the team by far to its most impressive season this year. They end their final season with a 17-8. Four of those losses coming at the hands of SCIAC opponents in the Leopards’ SCIAC tournament in their final weekend of play, in probably the arguably the toughest and most competitive conference in the nation.
The SCIAC crown alluded the Leopards this year, despite success over some top national programs such as Villanova, Cal State Northridge, Michigan State, Arizona State, and two wins over Notre Dame.
Emotions have run high for the group this year throughout their success.
Griffith says, “Everything is more important this year, because it’s the end.”
The feeling makes each girl want to work harder at everything and makes every game much more important. Knowing that there will be no more opportunities and no more “next year” gives the women motivation, but at the same time makes their hearts heavy.
“It will be weird not going to polo or swim practice next year, just because I’ve done it for four years,” says Hammons.
All the girls feel the same way. Each expressed the pride of leaving the program in the best shape it’s ever been in, but all are saddened that they will not be able to contribute to its continuing improvement next year.
The time put in by the women and the level of success that they and the coaching staff have brought the team is appreciated by the school and its athletic department. Prior to the their final SCIAC game against Redlands, Athletic Director Jimmy Paschal presented each member of the class with flowers and a hug of appreciation.
“It’s been a quick four.years,” says DeSantis, the team’s goalie and Fresno native.
The sentiment is unanimous between the four, but they have made the most out of their four years as teammates, and have forged lifetime friendships.