Fujiyama changes the face of Occidental water polo

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Author: Julia Armbrust

For most water polo players, scoring a goal despite tightly-contested defense is accomplishment enough. But for Nanea Fujiyama (senior), controlling the ball for the entire length of the pool and then contorting her body to split two defenders and drive a backhand shot into the back of the net that makes the canvas sound like a gunshot is considered routine.

For countless grueling hours, Fujiyama and the rest of the Occidental women’s water polo team are in the pool, either practicing or competing. Last Saturday, their training paid off when they won 4-2 in a game against La Verne, with Fujiyama contributing one goal. The win evened out the team’s conference record and put them one step closer to the SCIAC Championship game. The Tigers have made it to two of the last three Championship games and were Co-SCIAC Champions in 2011, an accomplishment that would leave most people satisfied.

Fujiyama, though, does not like to share the title.

“I just want to win SCIACs this year,” she said. “We’ve been so close the past three years that I just want to do it this year.”

With only one SCIAC team undefeated, Fujiyama is confident that the Tigers stand a chance. To mentally prepare herself, Fujiyama will do her usual ritual and imagine a game in her head the night before. On game day, the team will listen to a playlist that headlines Jock Jams’ “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble,” just as they have for each of the four years Fujiyama has started.

Despite four years of participating in a sport as demanding as a full-time job, Fujiyama, an economics major and mathematics minor, has landed a position at Teach For America for next year in her home state of Hawaii. Modestly, Fujiyama credits her future employment to the life skills she learned from water polo, like managing time and balancing each player’s individual needs. “I honestly believe [water polo] is what got me the job,”she said.

As a first-year, Fujiyama was one of nine women on the team. The small size fostered a good team atmosphere, and Fujiyama was worried that the inevitable roster changes each year would have negative effects. Luckily the team, currently at 17, has remained close-knit with the help of older teammates.

“Nanea takes the time in practice to give individual attention to the younger players in order to give them pointers and develop their skill-set,” senior goalie and four-year teammate Raiye Adeleye said.

It is this team dynamic that first attracted Fujiyama to water polo when she switched from swimming in the seventh grade. “When you succeed, it’s so much more fulfilling as a team than just you doing it,” she said. “It’s probably my favorite part about water polo.”

The three-time NCAA All-American player, 2013 Team Captain and holder of the school records for career goals scored (293), career field blocks (73), career shots attempted (702) and single-season field blocks (22 field blocks in 2012), seems to breed success, and those are just a fraction of her accomplishments. According to Head Coach Larry Zubrin, her achievements are the result of hard work and a passion for the sport.

“It’s no secret that our success over the past four years has coincided with [Fujiyama’s] arrival at Occidental,” Zubrin said. “Nanea is not only a talented athlete, but she is an extremely coachable player. She’s very mod- est about her ability and accomplishments, and she’s always pushing herself to be better. When you combine that attitude and work-ethic with her natural ability, the level of success that she’s attained is not surprising.”

In less than a month, Fujiyama will trade in her polo cap for a graduation one. “It’s kind of nerve-wracking. I can’t believe that in July I’m going to be in a classroom, teaching possibly seniors in high school,” she said.

But this won’t be the last time Occidental sees Fujiyama. Next fall, she plans to return for Homecoming if her break time lines up and hopes to play in the Alumni Game with her past teammates and friends.

“While her graduation will certainly leave a big hole in our line-up, her legacy will have a deep impact for many years,” said Zubrin.

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