By Taylor Lupetti
Rivalries are typically thought of between two teams, but that’s not always the case.
While the women’s water polo team may have a small sense of rivalry with some, the players don’t focus on specific teams, rather they look at everyone in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) conference as their rivals.
Most of the San Jose State athletic teams play in the Mountain West Conference, a conference with a maximum of 13 schools. The women’s water polo team however, plays in the MPSF a conference with 39 schools.
Senior Cara Robinson knows being in the MPSF conference puts her team up against the best collegiate athletes in the sport — including a few Olympians — and turns that into viewing everyone in the conference as her team’s competition.
“Everyone in our conference is our rivals,” Robinson said. “Every time we go up against them, we want it bad because those games determine placement going into the championship.”
Going up against the top-5 teams in the nation, Robinson loves the opportunity to be put up against the best competition out there.
“We are playing against Olympic gold medalists,” Robinson said. “I love being up against the best of best because if you get to compete with them, that’s pretty amazing.”
Being members of the MPSF conference is something that the team is proud to be a part of. Recognizing the level of play they are on, head coach Gabor Sarusi uses the opportunity to strengthen their game.
“We are in the best division of the nation and possibly the world,” Sarusi said. “We have to stay confident and we have to want it because we are going up against big teams every week.”
Robinson’s fellow co-captain Tayler Peters sees the chance to play against the best teams as her team’s ticket to get to the NCAA.
“In order to get to the NCAA we have to play well,” Peters said. “So obviously playing with the best teams in the nation is going to get us to that point.”
Being members of the MPSF has given them more confidence in the water but big losses to over-powering programs stings significantly.
“Playing in the MPSF has definitely brought us up, Peters said. “We just have to make sure it doesn’t bring us down when we lose by a lot.”
To better prepare themselves for their games, the team’s approach is not a physical one but a mental one.
“We try to keep in mind that they are out to get us,” Peters said. “Obviously, they know we are out to get them and I think it’s about getting each other pumped up and wanting the win more than we did before.”
When it comes to training before big games, the women do not change their routines in an effort to make sure they stay on track to play well.
“Going into those games,” Robinson said. “You try to do the same thing just to make sure you don’t do something drastic and change too much, you try to make it feel like it’s any other game.”
The closer the team gets to game days, Sarusi notices a change in the practices before a big rival game.
“You can tell the girls are a little bit more excited during the Monday practice when they jump into the pool,” Sarusi said. “They definitely get more focused and a little more anxious to play the game.”
For Sarusi, the sense of rivalry personally extends to his alma mater USC but also to the local rival Santa Clara University, a team the Spartans did not play against this season.
“When it comes to in-town rivalries,” Sarusi said. “Santa Clara University as a whole is a big one and is a team we are trying to schedule games with for next season.”
Proving that a rivalry can be against more than one school, the women’s water polo team plays with a vendetta every time they get in the water. They will continue to do so in order to get to the NCAA Championship Tournament.