Head above water

The Steven E Schofield Aquatic Center is immersed in the chaotic sound of splashing water as players call out defensive plays. With the ball in hand, various pump fake moves are used to psyche out opposing goalkeepers. Half the action happens under the water as legs frenetically kick, keeping the swimmers afloat. The Pierce water polo team are behind in points as the horn blows, sounding the end of the match. Despite the loss, Kailey Bennett gets out of the pool and prepares herself for the next challenge. This is the nature of competition.


Bennett wasn’t always a water polo player. Throughout her years at Saugus High School, Bennett was a competitive swimmer and became a member of the water polo team during her first year at Pierce after being recruited by Moriah van Norman, head coach of the women’s water polo team.


“I enjoy that it [water polo] is physical,” says Bennett. “It’s a lot of fun because I used to play ice hockey in my childhood so that was a more physical aspect compared to swimming where there is no contact at all with the other person.”


The transition from being a competitive swimmer to water polo was a bit of a challenge for Bennett.


“I’m a very competitive person,” says Bennett. “The problem was going from doing my best at my events to having to work it into a group situation instead and with water polo, it’s more based off your teammates where you have to really communicate and work as a group.”


Bennett, 19, also had some difficulty transitioning from high school to life on a new campus.


“I’m originally from Saugus and as far as I know, none of my friends come here,” says Bennett. “It was a little bit difficult because it was a new group of girls that I’m going to be with for a year or two but I eventually bonded [to the team].”


Attracted by Pierce’s pre-veterinary program, Bennett’s competitive nature extends from the sport of water polo to academics.


“I want to be the curve setter in every class possible,” says Bennett. “When you’re applying for vet school especially, you want to be competitive so you can get into the top vet school and that’s what I’m really aiming for in the end.”


Currently in her second year at Pierce, Bennett’s competitive nature was guided by head coach Moriah van Norman.


“She’s not really focused on winning,” says Bennett. “She wants us to win but she teaches us life lessons at the same time like how to be great women in the end and emphasizes education as important.”


Van Norman, a former water polo herself from the University of Southern California, won the Peter J. Cutino award in 2004 and was recognized as the best female collegiate player in the nation.


“Kailey will absolutely be super successful in life because she’s so competitive,” says van Norman. “She’s so hard on herself and this is her first time playing the sport and she’s a leader on the team.”


These qualities are what will help Bennett succeed in life, van Norman added.


Bennett’s competitive nature also influences those around her.


“She’s a hardworking student and it reflects in the pool,” says Sofia Gogoasa, a team mate of Bennett on the water polo team. “She’s one of the fastest girls we have and she encourages me to push myself.”


Life as a student athlete can be tough for some people. With the status of a full time student, having a part-time job on the side and being an athlete, finding balance is a challenge Bennett is not shy to tackle.


“I plan ahead because if I don’t, then I know the day of, I’ll be doing homework,” says Bennett. “Having a planner and organizing helps out a lot.”


Bennett’s level of focus nurtured her into being a leader on the team.


“She came to us extremely mature and disciplined,” says Judi Terhar, head coach for the swim team. “She’s the first one here early in the morning, she’s got classes until late at night, she never complains and after swimming three hours not only with me but with the [water polo] team as well, she tells the other girls ‘let’s go in and do some weights’, so she’s already a leader.”


Bennett, who is a pre-vet major, plans to transfer to UC Davis and become a specialized veterinary surgeon and work for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).


“I want to do rescue center work and help animals,” says Bennett. “Giving them a voice and make sure that they’re healthy and end the abuse of animals.”


Of her time spent at Pierce, with her focus and competitive nature along with the mentoring of van Norman, Bennett has learned and lived by a rule that will help her reach her goals.


“Hard work will get you where you want to get to in the future.”