Once again, the IU water polo program will rely heavily on players from California.
The water polo team is the only roster at IU that is comprised of a majority of athletes from a singular state not being Indiana. For the second year in a row, more than 50 percent of the roster is from the Golden State.
Due to a lack of elite water polo clubs in Indiana, all nine freshmen in the class of 2023 are coming to IU from out of state. In fact, the water polo team is only one of three programs at IU with zero players from Indiana.
Three of the newcomers, Zoe Crouch, Lauren Gaudry and Katherine Hawkins, are joining the Hoosiers all the way from California.
From a place 2,000 miles away, three players might seem like a high number of recruits. But in reality, three is a minuscule total compared to past years. Just last season, the recruiting class landed a total of six athletes from California.
The connection between IU water polo and the West Coast stretches further than just the players. All three coaches grew up in southern California.
“In my eyes,” Gaudry said, “California is the center for water polo for the U.S.”
The mix of beautiful weather and the history of the sport in California creates a platform for young players to excel. The state anchors some of the most prestigious college programs in the United States.
Since 2000, the only schools to win the NCAA women’s water polo championships are University of California at Los Angeles, University of Southern California and Stanford.
A substantial reason for IU's ability to recruit in California is the family-like environment that has been created in Bloomington. Senior Megan Abarta believes that having recruits from afar come into your program naturally creates a tight bond.
“It’s something that makes us stand out from other teams,” Abarta said. “We’re close because we California girls get to show off our sport in the Midwest and we take pride in that.”
That bond is sparked even before recruits commit to play at IU. During campus visits, veteran players talk to recruits about the positive aspects of playing water polo in Bloomington. Abarta specifically recalls hosting Tina Doherty, a sophomore who grew up on the other side of Los Angeles from her.
“I got to share how great my experience has been here by moving so far away,” Abarta said, “and that has encouraged other girls to play water polo out here.”
“It’s nice because we’ve already built connections to other coaches and youth development programs,” assistant coach Mackie Beck said. “It’s cool to show them that water polo is really similar at Indiana.”
Moving forward, there are no signs showing that California will stop churning out strong players. The next step that coach Beck wants to watch is to spread that talent throughout the rest of the United States.
“As water polo continues to spread to other areas, the level of competition will also improve,” Beck said. “But I’m sure California will never stop producing great players.”
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