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David Conley | New University
David Conley | New University

Yocum was destined for the water and for the goal despite her early resistance to both.

As college students, we deal with a lot of stress — midterms, senior projects, staying healthy, friends; the list goes on and on. What about the pressure of being the goalkeeper for water polo, the last line of defense, with the weight of every goal scored being placed on your shoulders? Think that is stressful? Try only being a sophomore with that kind of responsibility. Welcome to the life of Jillian Yocum.

Originally from Riverside, Yocum admitted that water polo was not a high impact sport back in her hometown. She had been on a club swimming team since the age of four, but as she got older, her focus turned to playing softball and soccer. She had the key defensive role in those sports as well, playing catcher and goalkeeper. It was not until later that her older brother convinced her to take up water polo.

“When I first started [playing water polo], I told my mom that if I was a goalie, I was going to quit,” Yocum said. “I got to my first day of practice and they put me in the goal.”

Yocum was not bluffing. After that experience, Yocum actually did quit water polo for three months. In those three months, however, she realized that she wasn’t too fond of softball and soccer. Her dissatisfaction left her one option: water polo.

Yocum confessed her love for being in the water, and at the time, water polo just seemed like the best bet. Her brother’s involvement in the sport and the people she met along the way were other factors that influenced her choice of water polo.

Good move by Yocum. In her four years playing at Poly High school in Riverside, California, Yocum and her team claimed three CIF championships. Back in high school, Yocum never had a set workout to which she had to stay loyal. There was not a lot of conditioning because high school sports where she was from were more of an extracurricular activity. But college is very different and the transition was not easy for Yocum.

“Here, it’s a lot more, more conditioning and weight lifting,” Yocum said. “It’s really tiring practicing for three or four hours a day and then having to go home and do homework; it’s really not motivating.”

The secret behind Yocum’s motivation: her competitiveness and will to succeed. She always wants to perform at her absolute best, and that alone is what keeps her going.

Still just in her second year, Yocum acknowledges that she has a lot to learn, especially when dealing with the stress of being the goalkeeper. She has a huge responsibility on this team, but tries not to let that affect her performance.

“It’s stressful, that’s for sure,” Yocum said. “For me, I feel like if I don’t make a block, I think, ‘I should have had that.’ There is always something that I feel like I’m doing wrong. It’s more noticeable when I make a mistake than someone in the field playing.”

Although stressful, water polo has presented Yocum with great opportunities and fond memories. She loves the fact that the water polo community is a tightly knit group, and she usually knows someone on each team that UC Irvine faces. And some of her best memories have come from the travel trips she has taken with the team. Through water polo, Yocum was able to travel to places like Brazil and Canada with the junior national team. It is these experiences that have helped her develop as a seasoned goalie.

Playing off her reactions, Yocum uses the strategy, “Don’t think, just do” when the opposing team is trying to score. Trying not to think too much, Yocum really just tries to do what she’s supposed to do.

Averaging 11 blocks per game, Yocum must be doing something right. Although their official season has not started, the ’Eaters have been going strong in their pre-season with a record of 6-2, a promising start for this young team.

Having a young team can have its strengths and weaknesses. Some of the challenges include learning the plays, not being hesitant on taking shots, taking initiative and stepping up in a game.

Yocum believes in her team and is excited to see what this season holds with the first conference game on March 2nd.

“Stick with it and have the right attitude; I know there have been times when I have wanted to quit, but sports do present a lot of great opportunities to meet people and go places. I started playing a little bit later than everyone else, but if you keep working at it, eventually it will get easier.”

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