Driven to Carry

Marlin Agoub/New University

Trent Baxter seemed to defy logic as he sent the ball soaring into the cage while an opponent held him under water. One goal of six for the night, the senior men’s water polo player set a personal record in a game he’ll never forget.  This goal in particular brought the crowd to their feet.

He not only scored the goal blindly, but scored what ended up being the game winner.

“I still don’t really know what happened,” he said. “It was in the fourth quarter and we had set up a play to run where I was supposed to drive straight to the cage and get a pass.  We run it in practice a lot, and it was always super easy.  The guy would throw me the ball, I would be wide open, and I’d just throw it in the cage.”

“We were only up one point at this time, so, we run this play thinking it’s going to be pretty simple.  Something went wrong and I didn’t get open, I was completely covered, and the guy with the ball threw it anyways.  I reached for the ball, and as I was reaching [a Long Beach player] put me under water, and I felt the ball hit my fingertips.  As I came up, I looked and [the ball] was in the back of the cage and the crowd was going wild. [That goal] put us up and we ended up winning by one.  It was the goal that we needed.”

With a clutch win, Baxter delivered when the ’Eaters need it most. In response to his record-setting performance, Trent was recently named Player of the Week and is ranked eighth in the conference with an average of 1.85 goals per game.  He also currently has the second highest goals scored behind teammate Mitch Wise with a total of 48 goals on the season.

To make his historic six goals even sweeter, they came in the “Black and Blue” rivalry match.  Trent revels in the tradition of the rivalry between Irvine and Long Beach State and explains that no matter what the teams’ records are going into the match, it will always be an intense match. This season both teams went into the match-up with a 1-4 record in conference play as they battled for a spot in the tournament.

“It was actually a really big game for us,” said Baxter.  “We only had one conference win before that and one team in the conference doesn’t make the tournament, so we knew if we beat Long Beach that it would pretty much secure us a spot in the tournament.”

As a senior and captain, Baxter knew that his performance could decide the result of the game, and in turn, the fate of their season.

“I knew that I needed to have a big game,” he said.  “That was my mindset I had going into it.”

When asked if an energetic crowd makes a difference he responded “absolutely.”

“When you have a huge crowd behind you and you can hear them, it’s amazing how much it can help you give you momentum and energy,” he said.

The fans turned out to support UCI at the “Black and Blue” rivalry game on Nov. 3 where Baxter set his personal record.

When asked if he could relive a moment in his water-polo career Baxter answered without hesitation, “Every time we play Long Beach at our home.”

While he grew up in Fresno with his younger sister, older brother, a father who was an All-American swimmer at UCLA, and a mother who swam in the Olympic Games in 1972, his true home has always been the pool.

Baxter began playing water polo in junior high. With his brother leading the way, both Baxters committed to UCI and Trent joined his brother Kyle in the Anteater Pool.  Both brothers play driver, a position whose duty it is to penetrate and is located on the perimeter of the offense.  Baxter describes that his physical size is suited for the position and he notes that he has always played in that spot.

“My job is to move around, and get the ball to our two-meter man, who is the center of the offense,” he said. “My job is to basically drive — to keep the offense moving.”

In a sport that requires its players to tread water for the entirety of the game, Baxter is drawn to the constant movement, which makes him a perfect driver. While most people shy away at the brutality and aggressiveness of the sport, Baxter seizes the opportunity to use that aspect of the game to his advantage.

“I like the competitiveness,” he said. “I like the physicality also.  In a lot of sports, you can be super competitive, such as basketball, but it’s not really that physical.  In water polo it’s fun to be able to use the aggression that a lot of people build up in competition and actually be able to go out and use that to help your team win.  I like being able to have [the physicality] be part of the game.”

Baxter describes the sport he loves as a combination between soccer, wrestling and basketball.  It is the harmony between the different games that keeps him in the pool and enjoying the intensity.

With a vigorous schedule packed with 6:00 a.m. practices, class and then practice again at night from Monday through Friday, dedication seems to come up short in describing the diligence displayed by Baxter and the men’s water polo team.  But this persistence is a part of the game that Baxter also loves, and it is something that he notes sets UCI apart from other squads.  Irvine works hard year-round where other schools let up in the off season.

“To not have that [practice schedule], and to just have free time, I don’t know what I would do,” he said.

Hoping to continue this level of intensity even after graduation, the business economics major wants to play as long as he can.  Besides playing professionally, Baxter wants to stay involved in athletics and notes that he would love to coach like his parents.

“[Coaching] is the closest you can be to playing without actually playing,” he said.

Outside the pool, the senior loves going to Disneyland where his favorite ride is Splash Mountain — suitable for the boy that lives in the water.

“Have fun and enjoy the time while you’re here,” he said when asked if he had any advice for underclassmen. “Looking back it really does [go by quickly].  Enjoy the time you have while you have it.”

As Baxter enjoys his time in the pool, he looks forward to the future and to the rest of his senior season.