Some of their names grace the pages of the San Diego State athletic record books. Others have battled through serious injuries. And some of them have had to make tough choices affecting their practice and playing time.
The seniors on the SDSU water polo team all have different stories, but one thing they all have in common is this: Their collegiate careers are coming to a close.
There have been many ups and downs, but it’s been an experience that has left them with some valuable lessons and friendships.
“I’ve definitely learned a life lesson of just how to work well with a team,” senior driver Sarah Brady said. “I’m going to miss being around my team every day and hanging out with my best friends. You can’t really have that anywhere else.”
“I’ve learned really what it means to be a team and work together and have each other’s back,” senior center Ashley Novack added.
Brady has seen significant playing time since the start of her freshman year and has been one of the most successful water polo players in team history. She currently holds the SDSU single-game record for most assists with seven, is tied for second in the record books for assists in a season so far this year with 59 and is second on the list of all-time career assists with 172.
For Novack, her role on the team wasn’t always quite as defined, yet she never stopped working to improve her water polo career.
“I feel like Ashley’s had to work for everything and she’s, at times, had to overcome some skepticism about her ability to really make a difference for this team,” said head coach Carin Crawford, who has been at the helm for 13 seasons. “I feel like she’s probably one of the most determined, focused and confident athletes that I’ve ever known. “
For fellow seniors Ronni Gautschi and Ashley de Goede, it was personal injuries that left them with a huge amount of adversity to overcome. Since the start of her freshman year, Gautschi’s had surgeries on both knees and both shoulders, with one shoulder needing repair twice. She was forced to medical redshirt last season but has worked hard to come back for a fifth year this season and has truly made the most of it.
“What Ronni’s accomplished this season with that fact that she’s playing and she’s back to full strength and is tearing it up for us, it’s really a huge, huge accomplishment,” Crawford said. “I’m just really amazed that Ronni is playing and has gotten through all these injuries and surgeries to finish out her career.”
After transferring to SDSU her junior year, a car accident and an errant water polo ball left de Goede with two concussions that season, forcing her to redshirt. Before returning to action again this season, she was forced to deal with a case of mononucleosis that left her with an uphill battle of getting back into shape for her senior year.
“Bad thing after bad thing kept happening and San Diego just felt like this awful, bad luck place, but the coaching staff and my teammates really helped me through it,” de Goede said. “It’s always hard when something bad happens and you just have to get through it. But with teammates, they’re always there to help you.”
The choice to pursue a tough degree in communicative disorders left senior utility Jenna Natalizio missing some practices too, and at times in her career, hurt her opportunity to play. However, she was determined to make the most of her senior season.
“I had to support Jenna’s degree decision because that’s really what she wanted to do,” Crawford said. “This season she worked so hard in the offseason, came back, and has really solidified her spot on our team as a steady contributor.”
Although their paths to this point in their careers have all been a little different, one thing they have in common is the experiences they’ve had and the friendships they’ve made playing the sport they love.
“I’ve gained a lot of great friendships that I know that I’ll have for the rest of my life,” Natalizio said.
“You can’t experience the things that we’ve gone through each season and not feel like we’re bonded forever,” Crawford said. “Just to get to see them come in and struggle with the things that all students struggle with and then to see them with the focus and determination to see it through and achieve their goals, it’s just really a rewarding experience.”
Each senior will have a chance to start in their last home match of the season as they take on crosstown rival UCSD at 3 p.m. tomorrow at the Aztec Aquaplex.