Imagine the game of chicken, where pairs face off in a pool and try to knock each other into the water.
Now multiply that fierceness by 10, add a ball and some more players (not to mention rules and strategy) and you have water polo – where there is never a shortage of excitement.
Sophomore Carmen Eggert has played many sports in the past, but only the intensity of water polo could satiate her competitive edge.
Eggert sat down with Aggie sports writer Matthew Yuen to discuss the game where ferocity is a must and injuries are the norm. She also shared what it’s like to be one of the top scorers on one of the nation’s top-ranked NCAA teams, all as a sophomore.
What started your water polo career?
My parents were both swimmers and my dad played water polo, so I started when I was in seventh grade, but I had been swimming [since] I was five. I played a lot of other sports – baseball, softball, basketball, tennis, soccer – but swimming was where my brothers [and I] excelled, so I narrowed it down to swimming and water polo in high school.
Swimming and water polo do go hand in hand. Do you like one aspect of water polo more than swimming?
I actually hate swimming! I always found it sort of boring. When I found water polo, it was like adding a ball to something I’m good at, giving my swimming a purpose. When I was introduced to water polo, I really developed a passion for it and wanted to devote all my efforts to it.
Last year, we only saw you appear in about half the games, but this year you’re logging the most playing time on the team. What has been the difference between your freshman and sophomore years?
Adapting to academics and to college in general was hard for me in the beginning. I started last year as a freshman halfway through the season, when everyone was in full swing. Toward the end of the year I started to pick things up, but it was just too short. I knew I could play with them, so this year I have that confidence now that I’m playing all the time – I can play to my full potential.
Looking at this turnaround from last year, you have emerged as a leader on the statistics sheet as well as in the pool – all as a sophomore. Do you feel any sort of pressure or new responsibilities?
I don’t feel any pressure or responsibility. None of these goals, as cheesy as it sounds, is possible without the rest of my team. My teammates are all great players and they make awesome plays, so literally all I have to do is put the ball in the net. And I try to do the same for them; everything I do is for our team to win. I’m not out there for stats. The bottom line is I want to win conference. I want to go to NCAAs.
How has a decorated and experienced coach like Jamey Wright helped develop your game?
Jamey has improved my knowledge about the game so much. You know when he’s coaching you [that] he knows exactly what he’s talking about. He’s very intellectual in his coaching, and can develop plays that will work to our advantage. He expects a lot from his players – a lot of hard work, to come to every practice and to be on time.
Speaking of influences, your older brother, Walter, is on the UC Davis men’s water polo team. Is there any sort of sibling rivalry between you two?
I wouldn’t call it a rivalry because I admire Walter so much. The coaches love him, he’s the hardest worker and the most inspirational player I know. I play to keep up with him, but it’s difficult! We also have another little brother Patrick who is playing water polo, baseball and basketball. He’s a sophomore at Marin Catholic High School, so it’s not just Walter and me.
Would you say you have any sort of edge over your brother?
Italian! We’re in the same Italian class and right now I’m winning. I’m probably better at “schmoozing” with our parents and getting away with things, too.
When watching a water polo game, it is obvious that there is a lot of splashing and a lot of contact. What goes on underneath the water that probably wouldn’t be acceptable in plain view?
Some people get dirty. There’s lots of grabbing – suit grabbing, kicking, scratching and I’ve even been bitten! I’ve seen blatant punches and elbows thrown, but underwater it’s mostly grabbing and some pinching. You’re grabbing constantly and kicking off and trying to gain advantages any way you can. It’s become second nature. You don’t get too upset over it because it happens so often – it’s just part of the game. Nobody who plays water polo can say they don’t grab suits.
Finally, the Big West Conference Championships are this weekend. How is the team approaching the games?
Our conference is up in the air, anybody can win it, and we want to be the ones to do it. By doing that, we will go to NCAA. But just to beat UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara, that’s first in line. We want to end playing our best water polo as a team and end on a high note.
MATTHEW YUEN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.