April 9, 2002
Sara Schmitt is the only senior on this year's women's water polo squad. From Beaverton, Ore., the driver has seen the Bronco program expand from a club team through its emergence to the Division I level.
Schmitt was named an Academic All-American as a freshman and helped lead the team to a fifth-place finish at the Division III National Championship as a sophomore. Last season, she scored 15 goals and already has 16 this season in leading the Broncos to their current 18-12 record. She adds 17 assists and 22 steals and has started every contest this season.
Set to graduate in June with a degree in psychology, Schmitt recently took some time to share her thoughts on a variety of questions, including some of her post-graduation plans.
Q: How did you get started playing water polo?
A: I started playing water polo the summer before my sophomore year in high school... that was when it was starting to become a popular sport where I grew up. I'm from Oregon, so it's definitely not as popular as it was here in California. I was deciding between playing soccer--which I did my freshman year--and swimming year-round, or trying something new. I had been swimming since I was seven, so I went for something new, and that was playing water polo. And I haven't stopped playing since.
Q: What's been the toughest challenge in learning the sport?
A: I think with water polo, there's always more stuff to learn. It's the same with any sport, you can always get better and improve on everything. It's kind of like the whole process of getting the basics down and continuing to learn. I know people who have played a really long time and are still learning the game. It's a constant challenge.
Q: What's your favorite aspect of the game?
A: It's pretty rough. On Saturday, for example, I got popped in the nose. There's always something... you're always in there. We all come home from practice with bruises everywhere. But it's fun to play tough and get in there.
Q: Why did you choose to play water polo at Santa Clara?
A: I came here during my junior year in high school for a Junior Olympics tournament. We played games on campus. It was my first time at Santa Clara, and all I could think about was how beautiful it was. So I was thinking, `I have to come to Santa Clara!' Then when I became more serious about looking into colleges, I kept that in mind. I liked the school a lot and the team was just getting started. It was a club sport then and I liked the thought of helping to build a program. It was actually after I started attending classes here that the program went to the NCAA level. That was really exciting when I found that out.
Q: Where is your favorite place to go on campus?
A: Malley! I love the gym. And I love the Mission Gardens, too.
Q: What has been the key to this year's team's success?
A: It's a combination of all of our freshman and our upperclassmen. I'm the only senior on the team, so with the juniors, we've been building up the team, and the freshmen have come in with new energy and their experiences. It's been a great mix of excitement. This has probably been our best season yet.
Q: How is it being the only senior on the team?
A: It's kind of tough. I like it, but I really miss the girls I've been playing with the past four years. When I was a freshman, the senior class had seven girls and they were the strong core of the team. I always looked up to them, and now it's just me, which is weird. But it's also exciting to see where the program is going based on how it started off as a freshman.
Q: What gets you through those weird moments?
A: It hasn't been that bad. We've had a good season and it's been a lot of fun. I like knowing that I'm kind of passing on the torch to the girls for next year.
Q: Can you explain your position to those reading this that might not be water polo savvy?
A: The best way to explain water polo is to compare it to basketball. There's the center, which we call the two-meter person or the whole set, and that person is right in front of the goal. The five other people are on the perimeter and they drive in and set picks. I don't set whole very much in my position, it's mostly driving... I kind of get the plays started. It's a lot like basketball, just slower because you have to swim!
Q: On an overcast, potentially rainy day in the late winter, like when your season was starting, what gets you in that pool?
A: The absolute worst part of practice is those 30 seconds you're standing there thinking, `I have to jump in that pool. I have to get in. I have to!' That's the worst part. But we all get in. Sometimes it's actually nice when it's a little bit cloudy, because the sun's not in your eyes when you're trying to pass the ball. It's not much fun though when it starts raining, but it's part of playing the sport. I actually have fun playing outside for the most part, because in Oregon, all the pools are indoors. All through high school, I never played outside. It was exciting to come to California and play outside.
Q: Talk about your fans. The team seems to get quite a crowd to the matches.
A: It's fun to have people cheering for you. Our home games are a lot more fun than playing on the road. It makes a difference having your friends come out and support you. When you're in the pool, you can hear what's going on, even though you are concentrating on the game. It's exciting to see people cheering. I have seven housemates and some of them come out to the matches. A few of them get a little bit crazy. One of my housemates made a tee shirt that read `I love Sara,' and she was screaming the whole time! It really pumps you up when you see that because you know people are supporting you.
Q: You're almost ready to graduate with a degree in psychology. Can you share what interests you in that field?
A: Psychology is one of the best fields to study. You're studying people and why they do things the way they do and why they are the way they are. I just find it a really interesting thing to study. You can use it in everyday life. I've really liked that about it. Actually, I want to go into teaching, so I'm starting grad school in June to get my credential and master's in teaching. I really like studying child psychology and development.
Q: Where are you going to study next?
A: At Lewis and Clark College in Portland. Back home! I'm really excited. I think the school is a lot like Santa Clara, but I am starting grad school two days after graduation from here. I'm a little nervous about that.
Q: You're giving yourself no time to enjoy graduating from SCU?
A: I know. I don't know how it's going to go. I do know that we'll have a little break after the summer session, so I'll catch my breath then. It will be weird to graduate, move back home and start school again in two days! But, oh, well, I can do it.
Q: Do you have any hidden talents or something you just haven't shared with many people?
A: No! I'm not really a secretive person.
Q: Do you listen to any special music before a match to pump you up?
A: I like to listen to Bob Marley. But as a team, we always listen to music during pregame, and that's always really helpful.
Q: Do you have any plans to pursue water polo after your playing days here are past?
A: I'd really like to. I coached a swim team a couple of summers ago, but I haven't coached water polo. Not yet, anyway! But I'm definitely interested in it. I like coaching and I think doing it in water polo would be really fun.
Q: Have you started to think about the fact that your days as a Bronco are winding down?
A: Yeah. It's weird because you get caught up in the season and the next thing you know, there's three more games left! I haven't started to think about it that much, but it will definitely be hard when it's over. I've had a really good four years and I've had great teammates and a great coach in Steve. It's going to be tough. I'll enjoy it while it's still around.
Q: You mentioned earlier about passing the torch to the younger teammates. What is one of the lasting impressions you want to leave with them?
A: Remember to have fun. We have our goals, and we've had some ups and downs this season, which gets kind of tough and can leave people frustrated, but I think the best thing to remember is that we play to have fun. Winning is fun, and playing well is fun, but remembering that actually playing together as a team is fun too. If you don't win, and you're having a bad practice or a losing streak, don't get down, just keeping having fun. I don't want that to get lost.