Wiltse works her way to collegiate water polo

Rachel Smith, Reporter

Water sprays throughout the air, showering in clear drops as players fight over the ball. Water polo is one of the most vigorous sports for an athlete to participate in. When most high school students take part in athletics they dedicate their time and energy for a minimum of two hours a day. With so many things going on outside of school not many athletes spend nine hours a day in dedication to their sport. Senior Gabby Wiltse is one athlete who shows this much dedication.

Wiltse is on four different teams, Pacific Northwest Shores, Edmonton Capitals, Pacific Northwest Zone for Olympic Development Program and San Diego Shores. As of November 11, 2013 Wiltse has accepted a college scholarship to California State Bakersfield for water polo.

“Water polo [has become] such a consumption of my time that I can’t imagine my life without it,” Wiltse said. “I’ve thought about just staying in state and going to college and having a lot of my time for academics but honestly, I wouldn’t be able to do that. I’ve been a student athlete now for four years and [to] all of a sudden quit that, I couldn’t do it.”

Wiltse has only had four years experience prior to earning her scholarship, beginning as a Seahawk water polo player her freshman year. Originally, Wiltse was into more popular sports that a larger number of athletes participate in, such as soccer and basketball. But upon encouragement from her father she decided to become involved in water polo.

“My dad pushed me to play because he knew the sport better than I did. I was a swimmer for a really long time and I was good at basketball but I didn’t like running, and the same with soccer; I liked the concept of the game but I didn’t like running,” Wiltse said. “If I had something like that in the water he thought I would be really good at it, that’s basically what water polo is, so I tried it and I sort of had a knack for it.”

Wiltse’s early success in the pool developed quickly, leading her coach to encourage her to continue playing waterpolo.

“I thought I would just play it in high school, call it good, [it’s a ] fun sport to do. But then my high school coach from freshman year got me thinking because she told me that I could probably play at a small liberal arts college. That completely blew my mind that I could get to that level,” Wiltse said. “I  realized I couldn’t get that [level]  in high school water polo so I really took what she said to heart and did everything that I could to get to that level.”

In order for Wiltse to reach her goal of playing water polo for a liberal arts college she became more involved in the sport, joining  multiple teams throughout her high school experience.

“I [now] practice water polo four days a week. Three days a week I have a one and a half hour drive. On the fourth day it’s about a twenty-five minute drive. Practices depend on the type of team, for San Diego Shores and my other three teams we have two and a half hour long practices,” Wiltse said. “However, my Pacific Northwest for Olympic development program has nine hour long practices, it’s more intense with different skill work.”

These teams allowed Wiltse to continue her love for the sport and helped her to continually make progress because of her hard work and dedication during practice.

“Practices depend on the type of team, for San Diego Shores what we do is we have two and a half hour practices down there. We would have a half hour long swim set which is ten 50’s for warm up, and from there we’d go do eighteen 100’s on varying times of 2:30, 2:20 and then 2:10,” Wiltse said. “Then we do 25 meter drill sprints, going over our hips, things you really want to perfect for the game itself, doing shot locking, being able to knock down a ball and passing. Thats usually the first hour of practice, after that we break off into A and B teams, the A team is in a different bracket than the B team.”

Each practice forced Wiltse to focus on important aspects of the game, such as playwork. Her practices consisted of going over and focusing on getting better opportunities in man-up situations. Every hour Wiltse dedicated to her sport, whether it was during practice or in her own free time, was an hour that made a large impact on her performance in the pool. Before long Wiltse had met her goal of playing water polo at a Division III university.

“From there my club coach got me thinking again because I was on track for a Division III school for water polo which is already an awesome accomplishment. He told me that I shouldn’t limit myself to Division III schools, that with my potential  I could play at Division I,” Wiltse said.

Being on so many teams and working with so many different coaches caused Wiltse to improve and succeed tremendously. Her hard work and early success in the water did not go unnoticed among coaches and soon Wiltse was receiving lots of offers from multiple universities.

“Since I was on Pacific North West Shores-it’s a branch of San Diego Shores-the men’s head coach (Mike Wensen) asked me if I wanted to go play down in California for the summer and that really set me back. Initially who wouldn’t want to go play in San Diego for the whole summer? It was like a dream come true,”Wiltse said. “ They [have] won numerous Junior Olympic titles and they have a lot of people from San Diego Shores that get to play on the National team.”

Wiltse’s time playing in California provided  many opportunities to build  relationships with both coaches and players.

“I got to meet so many coaches and thats how I got, honestly, to play college water polo or even to get the chance to, because I went and played with girls that were playing at Stanford and UCLA,” Wiltse said. “I was thrown into this pile of ridiculously great athletes and I’m the only one from the Northwest and all of these girls have been playing their whole life. It was scary but it made me so much better because getting thrown into that atmosphere you have to sink or swim. You get to sort of decide and I decided that I’d stick it through.”

The trip to California caused Wiltse to grow in her abilities at playing water polo. After her time spent training in San Diego, Wiltse, with the help of Wensen, was prepared to play water polo for a Division I university.

“At the end of the summer I was on track to go to a Division I school- it was basically just people telling me that I could do it,” Wiltse said.

Wiltse was offered  numerous scholarships from a handful of Division I colleges to go along with her other offers from smaller universities but chose California State Bakersfield because of its location and her prior experience in San Diego.

“Bakersfield offered me a National letter of intent for water polo. It sort of assigns me a spot on the team and says that I will play water polo there, I’m committed to that school,” Wiltse said.

After only playing water polo for four years Wiltse has reached a very high level of competition in the sport. Her hard work and dedication, all of the things she has sacrificed in order to play, have allowed her to reach her dreams.

“I’ve dedicated so much time to this sport and that’s not going to change in college. I’ve missed school, I’ve given up so much, I’ve gone down for a full summer just to play water polo with great athletes , I’ve worked so hard for it and they see it in the pool. It shows how hard I’ve worked and they know with things in the Northwest its hard to be able to even have the opportunity to go to Junior Olympics or be on the Olympic development team,” Wiltse said. “When they sort of see the accomplishments that I have done compared to others in Washington and Oregon and compare it with girls in California, I’m on the same level as them and that’s very rare. I’m the only girl in the state of Washington this year who has a National letter of intent from a Division I university for water polo.”