Author: Taylor-Anne Esparza
With a love for the ocean, marine life and the beach, it is no surprise that Sam Akiyama (senior) found his athletic success in the pool as a star player and captain on the Occidental men’s water polo team. In his last year on the team, Akiyama is making a name for himself, leading the Tigers with 32 goals in 100 attempts.
Akiyama began his swimming career at age eight and immediately discovered his new home in the pool. He also proved to have athletic abilities on dry land, participating in basketball, baseball and football in his younger years.
Entering high school, Akiyama intended to play this same array of sports, but his swim coach soon informed him that if he wanted to continue with his swim career, he would need to quit his additional athletic commitments. Akiyama surprised his coach and dropped swimming instead, using his new-found free time to explore other sports. When he discovered water polo, Akiyama knew he had stumbled upon his passion.
“Water polo requires the physical exertion of swimming, yet the finesse and game tactics of the other sports I played,” Akiyama said. “It’s almost like a combination of the others and I naturally just fit with it.”
This season, Akiyama is playing at a newly assigned position—attacker. Head coach Larry Zubrin explained Akiyama’s new position as relative to the point guard in basketball, while his previous position was more similar to a shooting guard. Zubrin spoke to the adjustments Akiyama has been making throughout the season and his progress in this new position.
“Sam is in a different role, yet it doesn’t limit his ability to shoot,” Zubrin said. “He has a good understanding of the fundamentals and is getting the hang of his new position.”
Zubrin reflected on Akiyama’s first year on the team and the immediate impact he created.
“During games Sam is a great scorer and one of the more vocal guys in the pool,” Zubrin said. “He came in as a pretty polished player and he’s someone you would want to bring on your team.”
Although Akiyama’s life does not revolve around water polo, it does seem to be heavily situated around the water. Akiyama is a biology major with an emphasis in marine biology and a minor in English.
Originally Akiyama considered pursuing medicine, yet soon realized he could not fathom spending his life in a lab. His passion for the ocean outweighs any uncertainty about securing a job in marine biology.
“People say there’s no jobs in marine bio, but doing fieldwork is the dream,” Akiyama said. “I love the ocean and being out in nature.”
Akiyama plans to take a year off before graduate school and look into marine institutions in Cape Cod or near his home of Watsonville, Calif. Currently, he works for the Vantuna Research Group (VRG). The VRG is a marine research lab where Occidental students can work and study marine life in the Southern California waters.
“The VRG is the best thing that could’ve happened to me,” Akiyama said. “We’re doing the work of grad students and getting paid.”
Akiyama spends some of this salary on his skateboarding hobby and on his prized collection of old-school hip hop and funk records. He said his favorite part of record collecting is the search itself. When he is away from campus, Akiyama spends his time at home working on his family’s carnation nursery. These hobbies help Akiyama relax and escape from schoolwork and the strenuous nature of water polo, including the stresses of being team captain.
“Being a captain is tough because you’re the liaison between the coaches and the players and you’re right in the middle of everyone’s feelings,” Akiyama said. “I feel like I need to play Jedi mind tricks to keep the team dynamic happy and keep them calm during play.”
But Akiyama said his favorite aspect of the captaincy is being able to lend help and advice to those less experienced than himself. Although he says gaining the trust of his teammates was a challenge, he is excited to pass on his water polo knowledge and see his fellow players start to understand the game on a deeper level.
“There’s a good reason our team relies on him in games, and that’s because he comes out on top so often,” teammate Scott Virshup (senior) said. “He brings the team together inside and outside the pool and is a lot of fun to be around.”
With his eye on a SCIAC title, Akiyama hopes the team will continue to improve with each game.
“We’ve won every game we’re supposed to statistically,” Akiyama said. “As a smaller team in SCIAC, we need everyone firing on all pistons because SCIAC is up for grabs—it’s anyone’s year.”
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