Currently standing fifth in their league, UC Irvine men’s water polo team consists of two sets of twin brothers: Matt and Brandon Johnson and Tom and Kyle Kruip.
Growing up in Tustin, California, the Kruip Brothers started off swimming at a young age and started playing water polo in the sixth grade. Their main influence was their father, who played at Pepperdine University. At first, the Kruips viewed water polo as something to do in their free time, not something they had to do. “It’s kind of something we took to pretty easily, so it was just fun because it didn’t feel like work; it was just play,” Tom Kruip said.
The Johnson brothers, on the other hand, grew up in Palo Alto, California and discovered water polo through one of their co-workers while lifeguarding. One of the lifeguards coached water polo and suggested the brothers try the sport, and so, when they were in seventh grade, they did.
The two sets of brothers, currently fifth-year undergraduates at UCI, are all still unsure of what they would like to pursue in the future. However, they all agree that it is their dream to play water polo at an Olympic level. Kyle Kruip, a political science major, aspires to be a lawyer and play professional water polo abroad in Spain. “It’s definitely an option … you don’t make too much, but you can get your living paid for and your apartment paid for, which is nice,” Kyle said. “The season over there is twice as long as the season over here, so it’s a pretty big commitment. But it would be fun to play before starting a job.”
Tom Kruip, a social ecology major and urban planning minor, is still exploring his options, but has intentions to pursue a career related to planning and would like to play abroad wherever eligible.
Matt Johnson, the team goalie, is also a social ecology major and would like to go into sales, as well as play overseas in Australia because of the shorter season.
Brandon Johnson is majoring in criminology, law and society, but would like to become an athletic director. He, too, would like to play abroad in whichever country will take him, based on statistics.
All four players agree that, aside from the daily strenuous practice, in order to succeed in the sport, they must watch films and work on their field vision. Brandon and Tom are outside shooters, Kyle plays the two-meter and Matt is the goalie. Aside from practicing together, the athletes focus on their individual positions. While Kyle focuses more on “wrestling in the water and trying to get good kick-outs,” Brandon and Tom focus on trying to get their arms open to shoot the ball.
Aside from these things that help them succeed, these athletes don’t necessarily worry too much about what they eat. Most people are under the impression that they must always eat healthy, but special diets only factor in occasionally before games or after practice. “You work so hard, the reward is you get to eat whatever you want,” Tom said. They will usually load up on carbohydrates the night before a game, eat protein after they workout to help recover and try to avoid eating right before games.
Besides water polo, the two sets of brothers competed on an intramural basketball team at UCI. Matt Johnson played basketball in high school and, growing up in Southern California, the Kruip brothers enjoyed surfing, snowboarding and played ultimate Frisbee in high school. However, they have not been able to enjoy either boarding hobby in five years due to the risk of injuring themselves. “It’s kind of like an unspoken rule: don’t go and do anything that will get yourself injured,” Kyle said.
These four players find motivation in different ways. Kyle finds his motivation by looking no further than his teammates. “You want to be good for them. We all have one common goal: to win. You want to do it, not only for yourselves, but for them,” Kyle said.
Matt also shares this same view. “You see everyone else working so hard and you want to work hard too,” he said.
Tom is steadfast in his aspiration to be great. “To get to this level, you have to have the motivation toward everything you do in the water, and it’s kind of just something you have the hunger and drive to be your best and have success,” Tom said.
Brandon relies on past players, who played for UCI. “A lot of motivation is from our past alumni who some are now Olympians,” Brandon said.
In addition to the various commonalities and differences, Matt looks forward to games against UC Berkeley. Matt is from the area and Cal was a school he was looking into, but the Golden Bears did not recruit him.
They all agree that the one team they do not want to lose against is Long Beach. “A lot of the guys that got recruited here also got recruited for Long Beach, so we kind of want to prove that we made the right decision by beating them,” Tom said.
Although these two sets of twin brothers play the same sport at the same school, they are all separate individuals with different goals and interests in life.