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University of Arizona Women's Water Polo Team Takes Great Strides During Weekend Tournament

The University of Arizona’s Women's Water Polo Team hosted a number of other club squads this past weekend for a tournament at the South Rec pool. This tournament was a part of the regular season for the teams invited from the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s Southwest Division.



This year’s squad is a team full of younger players who just until a month ago, were practicing without a coach. As a result the team has bonded in the absence of a coach and are now looking to grow as a more cohesive group. They are a team that accepts players of all skill levels with many new players getting the chance to play during the weekend. Spectators during the weekend were able to see a good amount of the 20 player roster.


The CWPA Southwest Division teams involved in this 16 game slate were: San Diego State University Aztecs A San Diego State University Aztecs B

Grand Canyon University Antelopes

University of California - San Diego Tritons A

University of California - San Diego Tritons B

University of California - Irvine Anteaters

Arizona State University Sun Devils

University of Arizona Wildcats


It was a fun weekend of action with each team playing two matches per day. The Wildcats started their tournament with Saturday matchups against University of California - Irvine and University of California - San Diego A.


The Wildcats kicked off their Saturday with a morning matchup against the UCI Anteaters. Although the matchup got away from the Cats after the 1st quarter, Junior Jillian Johnson was able to shine by scoring two goals in the first half. Ultimately, the goals came often for the Anteaters who ended up as one of the top performing teams in the tournament.

FINAL: Wildcats - 5

Anteaters - 20




The next matchup for Arizona was against the Tritons of UCSD A. It was a similarly tough matchup for the Wildcats, this time against the only team that would end up undefeated over the weekend. Junior Kayla Johnson scored two goals while Freshman Ally Rojas and Sophomore Rory Van Gorder each helped the Wildcats by scoring once each. These would end up as the only scores for Arizona in this matchup as the tough Tritons team would end up with 20 scores.

FINAL: Wildcats - 4

Tritons - 20



Sunday saw two much closer matches for Arizona against the Aztecs of SDSU B and the ASU Sun Devils.


Their 10:30am matchup against the Aztecs was a close affair throughout. Kayla Johnson scored a hat trick of goals in the 1st quarter and Jillian Johnson ended up with 3 goals after scoring the last goal of the game for the Wildcats. Senior CeeCee Hill also racked up two goals in the closest match of the weekend for Arizona. After 4 tough quarters, it was the Aztecs that came out on top of the Wildcats scoring 13 goals to Arizona’s 9 in what turned out to be an aggressive matchup especially down the stretch. 


FINAL: Wildcats - 9 Aztecs - 13




Finally, to wrap up the entire 16-game tournament, the Wildcats closed against their desert rival in the Arizona State Sun Devils. It was another close matchup that remained competitive until the end. There was a large showing for this game and there were excited cheers from Arizona fans for their Cats. Again it was Freshman Ally Rojas who found the back of the net twice throughout the match as well as CeeCee Hill who scored two of her own. The difference maker was ASU’s Payton Nelson who ended up with 7 goals throughout the contest en route to a 6 score win for the Sun Devils.


FINAL: Wildcats - 8

Sun Devils - 14



The final standings for the weekend are as follows:

Team

W

L

University of California - San Diego A

4

0

San Diego State University A

3

1

University of California - Irvine

3

1

Arizona State University

2

2

University of California - San Diego B

2

2

Grand Canyon University

1

3

San Diego State University B

1

3

University of Arizona

0

4



Despite not coming out on top in their matches, the weekend was still a success for the Wildcats team that had to prepare for the season without a coach up until the start of this Spring ‘24 semester. Additionally, the team has had multiple players new to the sport recently join so It was senior members of the team that were instrumental in preparing the team for the competition of the tournament.


Longtime team members CeeCee Hill and Jillian Johnson said that they are proud of thejr new teammates' performances this past weekend. They mentioned that they saw massive improvement even two weeks removed from their first taste of game action this season at the AZ League Invite Tournament on February 3rd and 4th. Both players have been a part of the “support net” that the team is proud to have for not only its newer members but also for the whole team. Freshman player Ally Rojas described the team as having a “sorority-like connection” and felt that she had not seen a space like this team anywhere else on campus. She mentioned that the support she received from the team has helped her adjust as she experiments with playing different positions.


Although Rojas did play Water Polo in high school, there were also players for the Wildcats team that were completely fresh to the sport this season. One player was Junior Goalie Kat Moore who had previously played club rugby at the University of Arizona. Moore, who played on a number of different teams across multiple sports before joining this club team said that this has been the only team “without any sort of interpersonal conflict” that they had been on. They also were appreciative of the trickle-down knowledge that was always available either from observing other players or by asking questions which they have always been happy to answer. 


Another player on the team, sophomore Rory Van Gorder describes the team as a “collection of misfits”. Van Gorder admits that during her study abroad experience in Madrid last semester, she felt homesick for the team that welcomed her with open arms during her freshman year. She was also new to the sport last year when joining and was excited to see that the team had remained just as supportive and has had a great time playing with her new teammates. It has been a season of “women supporting women” Van Gorder says, in a way that she hasn’t seen on any team before.


The supportive nature of this team is a strong reason as to why players are willing and eager to go through some of the growing pains of improving together. As students, the players must balance their other commitments. Senior CeeCee Hill, who is double-majoring in Bioinformatics and Computer Science, works 20 hours per week, and is also the team’s social media manager says that she still looks forward to practicing with the team because of how it can help with “relieving frustrations”. Even though the team practices with a schedule that holds late night practices, players were very expressive in iterating that they never dreaded these late evenings because they were something to look forward to. Jillian Johnson says that she feels “motivated to get work done in order to be able to play and practice”, while Ally Rojas says she “always feels better” after a night of practice. 





Looking into the future, the team is excited to keep growing together. With only two members of the team in their final semester of college, players are excited to have time to look at long-term growth together. An important step, according to the players, will be to have consistency in coaching. CeeCee Hill believes that the team is undoubtedly motivated enough to be successful and win games, but acknowledges that the yearly setback of looking for a coach has made growth difficult. Sophomore Rory Van Gorder is proud of the team for being “team motivated” in the sense that she believes the players already have a strong foundation because of their bond and excitement to play together. She hopes that this strength, that is certainly not commonplace on every team, is what can hopefully allow the team to continue to grow in the coming years. 


With a long history of goal-for-goal overtime games against Grand Canyon University, the team is excited for their next tournament taking place on April 20-21 at Arizona State University campus where they will play GCU in addition to squaring off against San Diego State A, and UCSD B for the first time this season. They also look forward to a rematch against the top team in the Southwest Division in the UCSD A Tritons. Follow uawomenswaterpolo on Instagram to stay up to date with the team Photos: Luke Wise

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