The Marist Water Polo team is all about California love.
No, their favorite warm-up song isn’t 2Pac’s California Love; however, the program depends on recruiting players from California. Over two-thirds of their roster consists of California residents, 16 out of 23 players to be exact.
The West Coast, California in particular, is considered a pipeline for water polo athletes. The warm weather allows for indoor and outdoor tournaments, with international players traveling to this epicenter of water polo to participate.
It is a year-round commitment that consists of playing on the high school team for half of the year and playing on a travel team for the other half.
Many of the athletes do not start as water polo players. Some transition from a swimming background to play water polo for different reasons. Current Red Foxes, Marina Hyham and Sawyer Alter transitioned from swimming to water polo at a young age.
Hyham, a junior goalie from Garden Grove, CA, transitioned to water polo at 11 years old. Alter, a junior attacker from Woodland Hills, CA, switched over to water polo at 14 due to a knee injury.
Since the Red Foxes have so many players from California, some of the current teammates have either played with or against each other in tournaments. Hyham and Alter played against each other at least one time when they were on their respective club teams before college.
“One of the girls on the team now was actually from my high school,” said Hyham. “Most of the girls that played in California, I’ve played before. Even if I didn’t know them well, I would see them on the pool deck just playing in random games against them.”
Tournaments are the major events where water polo athletes get noticed by coaches. Most of them were in California, but there was a tournament in Las Vegas that both Hyham and Alter attended. They chuckled during the interview, finding out for the first time that they both competed at the same Las Vegas event.
Alter had the opportunity to travel to Hawaii to play against international teams from New Zealand and local teams from Hawaii. Other than those two tournaments, they traversed all over California.
“A lot of foreign players, maybe from Canada or Spain, would come and play on our club teams,” said Hyham.
Overall, the Golden State is where it’s at when it comes to water polo.
“I know in Florida, Pennsylvania, Connecticut there are strong players, but it’s not nearly the same as California and the competition level there,” said Alter.
So why did they choose to leave the west coast to attend Marist?
The main reason was head coach Chris Vidale.
“It’s a great school, I really liked the coach, and I still wanted a competitive aspect being outside of California,” said Hyham.
Vidale mainly focuses on recruiting via the Cali pipeline and, in normal times, attends tournaments to scout during his summers. He has also found some players outside of California to fill out the remainder of his roster.
“California is the hotbed of water polo, and if you take a look at my roster, I have a handful of people not from California. Those handfuls are either internationals, two from Texas, and one from Pennsylvania,” said Vidale. “California is the place to be when it comes to water polo in the United States. The name of the game is you’re trying to win, so you gotta go where the gettin’ is good.”
At times, it’s difficult for Vidale to convince West Coast players to pack up and move to the East Coast. The immediate access to recruits is an obstacle that Vidale faces regularly. He is not able to drive down to New York City and watch games, unlike if he were a basketball coach. Although it is a tall task, Vidale is not afraid of somebody telling him no.
“My summers are really spent in California. There’s probably two to three massive tournaments you need to be there for,” said Vidale.
If Vidale is not there for these tournaments, the athletes may begin to believe that he is not interested. It is imperative to stay ahead of competitors and go to the events in person to show dedication to possible recruits.
“You gotta show these kids some love. They have to feel comfortable with you as a coach, they want to feel comfortable with the team, but I think they really appreciate it when you’re on deck and they know you’re there,” said Vidale.
Through the Cali pipeline, Vidale has created a successful team in his five seasons at Marist. As the pandemic begins to fade away, he will be able to take his summer business trips again to sunny California and continue to recruit at a high level.
Edited by Connor Kurpat and Jonathan Kinane
Photo from Marist Athletics