The white lines blurred between the two vans transporting the women’s water polo team back to UC Irvine from Stockton, CA last Saturday. As the vans maneuvered side by side on the highway, mayhem unexpectedly broke loose. With a cream cheese-filled pumpkin roll in her hand and a devilish grin on her face, senior Gianna Rossi initiated a victory: a car to car, mid-highway, food fight. As food splattered the paint and smacked the pavement between the opposing vans, senior Jenee Walsh sent over the clincher. Like a highway food-fight specialist, she picked up the level of mess and sent a solid stream of sunscreen into the side of the opposing van, at which point, it is safe to say, both vans were buzzing with laughter. Even though the team had to get out and clean the vans before dropping them off at the rental company, the food-fight was well worth it.
For the first time in the program’s history, the women’s water polo team won a title at the Inaugural Big West Conference Championship. They not only won the title, but smoked UC Santa Barbara, in the final match, winning 13-9.
The highway celebration was much-deserved and fitting for a team that takes the “family first” approach to the way they play. A common theme among the women on the team is having a good time, but taking names in the process. In the pool, intimidation was not a factor when facing Big West opponents. But out of the pool, laughter was a major factor. Leading that cause were the three seniors on the squad that have been in the program all four years of their careers.
Julia Fancher, Sarah Frost and Rossi played major roles all four years, but for these three dominating players, there was nothing sweeter than a title as a going-away party.
“All three of them left a solid imprint on the program,” said Coach Dan Klatt. “All three are leaders, and seniors always seem to step it up when that time comes. I think the younger players really learned a lot from them and can now step it up when their time comes.”
The impact these seniors made did not just include emotional boosts when tough moments arose, but also lifting the level of talent high enough to be Big West champs.
Frost was one of the team’s smartest players in the pool, and her excitement for the game was impossible to ignore. She was the ignition on the team and a solid force on offense. Frost ended her career with 63 goals, landing her as 10th all-time for goals scored at Irvine.
“I honestly thought [that Frost] brought really great leadership this year,” Rossi said. “Any time someone was slacking a little in the pool, she was there to put us back in line.”
Frost not only contributed in the pool but was the team’s “DJ” before and after matches, and attributes a big part of the team’s success to the ‘Eater Nation anthem by DJ Scrilla. According to her teammates, Frost gets everyone hyped to play.
But Frost is just one part of this trio that has found their way into important roles on the team. Fancher is the leader on the team and has possessed that quality throughout her tenure at Irvine. She is the defensive leader and still managed to knock in 49 goals this season and 143 throughout her career. She has been the captain of the team for two years running, and by the standards of her fellow Anteaters, stepped into the leadership role at an early stage.
“Julia’s been my leader, even though we were all freshman [and] she was someone I looked to for help at tough times,” Frost said of Fancher. “But above that she was a really great water polo player and I definitely followed her in that part.”
Within the team, all three of these players are looked at as leaders, but on paper, Rossi is the most dominant on the team in the pool.
“Since freshman year she has gone out there and ripped people to shreds,” Fancher said of Rossi. “She can have three girls covering her at one time and still score.”
Rossi has taken third all-time in goals scored at Irvine with a total of 192 and tallied a highly impressive 67 goals this season. Not to mention she was awarded Most Valuable Player honors at the Big West Conference tournament. But beyond her dominance in the pool, her personality is what shines. She is fervently giddy and is constantly smiling when around her teammates.
However, that seems to be a constant theme within the whole group. They are all just excited to be a part of this program, and even though these three seniors are leaving, the idea of a close-knit family has been established and will carry on after the impression these three have made. This was their first title in program history, and according to each and every one of these departing seniors, there is no doubt that there will be more titles in the very near future.