“Can I come back to that [question]?” asked the men’s water polo player Mitch Wise when asked what it was about UCI that inspired the Portland, Oregon native to relocate to Orange County for his college years.
The humble fourth year pondered intently, making sure to carefully choose his words in order to accurately convey his conviction.
It was not the first time Wise was asked the question, revealing the driver’s thoughtful nature.
However, the politeness ends at manners — when it comes to game time in the pool, it’s a different story.
On Saturday, September 1 in a 16-8 victory versus Chapman, Wise scored five goals for the Anteaters — three in the first period and two in the second. This marked the second game this season that Wise totaled five goals, the first coming in the 18-7 win against Redlands.
While domineering in the water, the humble no. 5 addressed his five goals in back-to-back games by saying, “I was just the end result of my team’s work. I just happened to be the guy that was open — I was the guy in the right situation.”
In light of Wise’s fast start to his red-shirt junior season, the earth and environmental science major was named the initial Mountain Pacific Sports Federation KAP7 Player of the Week for 2012. The All-American also led the ’Eaters with 70 goals in the 2011 season and earned second team All-MPSF and third team All-America honors.
Wise’s love for the water started at an early age when he, his two older brothers and his parents would go on family vacations to Hayden Lake, Idaho.
“We were in the water all of the time,” said the youngest brother of Matt, who played water polo at Pepperdine, and Dustin, who swam at the University of Texas.
As a member of the neighborhood swim teams, Wise also played club water polo, which, unknown to him at the time, eventually led him to his home on the Newport Coast.
“The place we went [with our club team] the most often was California, because [water polo] is way more popular here. It was always a big thing to come down, the pasty white kids from Oregon would put a bunch of sunscreen on to play the good kids from California,” said Wise — now officially one of the “good kids from California.”
As someone with an apparent talent for water sports even at an early age, it wasn’t always certain if he’d choose suits and caps over bats and gloves.
In addition to four years of varsity swim and water polo, where he and his team won second place at the state championship in 2008, the Southridge High School student also lettered three years in varsity baseball. With offers to play either sport at a university, Wise ultimately chose a future full of early morning swims before dawn as opposed to fielding grounders in laced up cleats.
When asked what made the fourth year decide to pursue water polo, Wise said, “Water polo is brutal. People don’t know that happens under water. [There is] a lot of grabbing, kicking, pulling … everything.”
Wise loved the challenge that water polo presented, saying, “The hardest part is trying to think when you’re exhausted … I like the fast-paced game.”
So, at the start of his second semester as a soon-to-be high school graduate, Wise decided he wanted to pursue water polo, much thanks to a fated meeting with UCI alum Rick Merlo. At a camp with his club team, Wise spoke with Merlo and sought advice.
“I talked to him about what I wanted to do and he said, ‘Do you know about Irvine?’” said Wise.
The rest is history. Wise was sold on the UC in the OC and joined the ’Eaters that owned Crawford Pool.
Since then Wise has experienced 6:00 a.m. weight training; countless drills and scrimmages; interval swims in the pool before the sun even comes up; and the athlete’s most memorable game of his college career that came against the University of the Pacific when the ’Eaters played the Tigers for fifth place in the MPSF.
Trailing by one with just seconds left on the clock, Wise tied the game at the end of regulation to take the ’Eaters into overtime, during which senior Trent Baxter scored the winning goal to give the ’Eaters the title.
“It’s a good feeling when you’re in those moments when you’re not feeling too good, or you’re really tired and all of your teammates are there going through the same things with you. It’s rewarding when you get to the end result,” said Wise.
Demonstrating the relationship between Wise and his teammates, the fourth year describes their traditional breakfasts at Mesa Commons as one of his favorite things about UCI. The team will go to commons post workout, where Wise enjoys his favorite made-to-order omelets before everyone heads to class.
On game days, however, it isn’t the fuel from commons that provides motivation for the driver, whose job it is to create plays on the perimeter and to get the ball to the middle, it is a text from his mother that usually reads, “Good luck, Mitchy.”
Even though his parents are 16 hours away, the Wise family makes the drive whenever possible to watch their youngest child compete as a college athlete.
Despite the distance between the home he grew up in and the house by the beach that he now calls home, Wise has never second-guessed his decision to be an Anteater.
After the interview came to a conclusion and pictures for Wise’s spread were about to be taken, Wise had collected his thoughts.
“The reason I chose UCI was because of their tradition of players working hard and putting the time in to get better,” said Wise.
“They took players that weren’t necessarily the most talented, but they were hard workers. And they came to school here and worked hard and eventually surpassed the players who were maybe the more talented kids out of high school. That was a really cool concept to me because I was from Oregon, and no one really knew who I was. I knew that I wanted to work hard.”
Now as a fourth year and with a season left of eligibility, Wise is anything but unknown in the world of water polo.