Senior Spotlight: Sun Devil Water Polo Players Dive into Next Chapter of Their Lives
The Sun Devil water polo team at Arizona State University has established itself as a top-five program that attracts a diverse and talented group of young women worldwide, year after year.
Currently 12-9, the group is only a few weeks away from the end of the 2021 regular season. With the Mountain Pacific Sports Confederation (MPSF) conference championship around the corner, five seniors on the team are preparing for the next chapter of their lives.
Originally from New Jersey, senior Kate Cassidy moved to Boca Raton, Florida, at the age of 6 and began playing water polo when she enrolled in a club at 8-years-old.
Since then, her love for the sport has grown, and she has gained an incredible amount of experience, including serving as a utility player for all four years at ASU.
Cassidy's journey as a Sun Devil began when she made a visit to ASU during her junior year of high school while on a trip to California with her dad.
Before this visit, she had only considered going to college on the East Coast, as that was all she knew and felt comfortable with.
She first met coach Todd Clapper during this impromptu meeting, and after she came back a few months later for an official visit, she knew that ASU would be her home for the following four years.
"As soon as I was on the official visit, I was like, 'I love it here, this is so cool,'" Cassidy said. "I wanted to be a part of a big school because I went to a small private school from third grade to graduation, so it's the same people all the time. I wanted to be able to get that big state school feel with all the school spirit and everything."
With over 50,000 students on the Tempe campus, Cassidy has been able to have that lively college experience she was looking for and be part of a smaller community as a student-athlete.
"I was grateful for the opportunity to come here and just meet so many people, especially from all over the world, because we have so many people (on the team) from different countries, which is awesome," Cassidy said. "It's great. It gives a sense of togetherness because you have so much variety on your team."
As she reflects on her time as a student-athlete, some of her fondest memories are from her freshman year.
As someone who loves to travel and has attended the Olympics with her family in Sydney, Beijing and Rio, one of her favorite memories on the team was the trip she took to Sydney, Australia, during her freshman year in 2018.
Back in Tempe, she also vividly remembers the end of her first season when the seniors on the team convinced the freshmen class to put together a dance and perform it after the final game, claiming that it was a yearly tradition.
"We learned the 'We're All In This Together' dance, and we were so excited, and then as soon as we finished, they (seniors) were like, 'we were joking,'" Cassidy said. "It was a lot of fun. There were a lot of moments like that."
With only a few weeks away from graduation, Cassidy has begun to reflect on her time as a Sun Devil and what she will miss the most about her time on campus.
"I'm gonna miss the people the most," Cassidy said. "I'm going to miss working for competitions as well, but I'm definitely gonna miss the people the most. That includes, not just my teammates, but also the coaches, staff and administrators because they're very important to us."
Being a Sun Devil has given her myriad opportunities and unique experiences. Along the way, she has also learned many lessons, including the importance of self-discipline and adaptability.
"You want to do the best that you can do for yourself because you want to be the best you can be for your team, so I think that self-discipline in that regard is important," Cassidy said. "Especially when you're juggling the stress of the team and practice, and then you're also dealing with school and a bunch of other things. It's good to keep yourself grounded in any way you can, and you have a good support system here (at ASU) to do that."
One of her most significant accomplishments, improving as a student and seeing the positive outcomes of hard work, has been a rewarding experience for her.
"I was not the best student in high school, but since coming here, I've been able to be a 'scholar baller' most semesters, which is something I never really expected or thought I would deserve," Cassidy said. "It's just really cool to be able to have that under your belt and that recognition."
Cassidy says that her family members have always been her number one supporters and looks up to them for advice about sports and her day-to-day life.
"My dad was also a student-athlete, and he swam, and my older brother was, as well, so I do have people in my family that I can look up to, and kind of look for guidance, especially when you hit those rough points like if you're feeling homesick at all, or if you're not feeling good about practices, they're always there for you," Cassidy said.
Cassidy will be graduating in May with a double major in political science and communications from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She is currently looking at jobs in data analysis and looking at the possibility of coaching at her parents' aquatics swim club back in Florida.
Regardless of where her career path takes her, she hopes to continue her hobby of traveling and exploring new places.
"I love traveling. I haven't been able to travel lately, but that's one thing I love to do. I've always been fortunate enough to go to a lot of places, and that's something I want to continue on with as a hobby and if a career takes me there, great."
If she could give any advice to an incoming student-athlete, it would be to go all-in with the college experience and rely on the built-in support system available to them.
"You're going to want to embarrass yourself at points, especially in college, like you're going to want to do the dorky things, you're going to want to have those memories, you're going to want to buy into all of it," Cassidy said. "Especially as a student-athlete, rely on your administrators and your academic coaches because they'll be there for you all the time."
When graduation arrives in May, Cassidy will be hard at work finishing up her last college season, enjoying the latest episode of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and getting lost in the world of one of her current favorite book series: Court of Thorns and Roses.
For senior water polo defender Bente Rogge, her experience as a Sun Devil has been nothing short of unique.
She started playing for ASU in 2016, but after her junior year ended in 2019, she traveled back home to the Netherlands to train for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
For months, her team began training full-time in Zeist, Utrecht at an intense pace of more than 25 hours a week, all in preparation for the qualification events that would take place in March 2020.
Two weeks before they were scheduled to attend, though, the pandemic shook the world and everything came to a halt, pushing everything back to January 2021.
"All of it being postponed was crazy because we had been practicing and working so hard for this one goal, and then it just didn't happen," Rogge said. "That was definitely mentally tough, it kind of felt like you did it all for nothing, and then after the break having to restart that whole thing, that was hard."
One year later, though, qualifiers resumed, and Rogge and Team Netherlands could qualify for the Olympic Summer Games taking place in Tokyo this summer. Now, weeks after qualifying, she is still in awe that they will be competing in a little over three months.
"In the end, it paid off," Rogge said. "Everybody is happy, and qualifying was crazy. I still don't even realize it when people say, 'Oh, you're going to the Olympics this summer,' I'm like, 'Yeah, I actually am.' That's crazy."
At only 23 years old, Rogge has already had an impressive career in water polo. Competing in the Olympics is an accomplishment like no other, but her time at ASU has been no less successful and has helped shape her in many ways.
Rogge began playing water polo at 8 years old when her friend's mom convinced her to join a practice that she was coaching. On the day that she attended, her love for the sport began and took her to where she is today.
Rogge says that one of the biggest reasons she successfully played water polo in the Netherlands was due to her parents' support. Even though they may not have understood the ins and outs of playing a sport, they have always allowed her to make her own decisions.
"They've been supportive of whatever I have decided to do, which I think has allowed me to really create my own path and not let myself get influenced whatsoever by anyone," Rogge said.
Fast forward to 2015, coach Clapper recruited Rogge at the Junior Water Polo World Championships. She immediately felt a strong sense of trust in him, which was crucial for her as she would be taking a giant leap in moving to the United States to play.
"He's really good about making people feel comfortable with moving across the world to attend a program," Rogge said. "He really gave me the feeling that I was going to be part of something big, but also something that would feel like family, so I really liked that about him."
One of her fondest memories of the team was their trip to Australia in 2019. Though she has traveled around the world plenty of times, she really enjoyed being present with some of her teammates who had never traveled outside of the U.S. before that trip.
"I think it was really awesome to be a part of their journey of actually traveling," Rogge said. "I think for some, maybe even all of us, it was our first time in Australia. One of our teammates was from there, so she was able to show us around. To see where she was from was really awesome, too. It was our way of preparing for the season that year, so that was really cool."
The connection Rogge has with her teammates is like no other, and she says those bonds were critical to her when she came back to play after a year and a half away from ASU.
"I was scared that I wasn't going to be as much part of the team like I was used to," Rogge said. "But honestly, after the first two weeks, it just felt like old times. It was really nice to see that even though I came in late, my teammates were so welcoming, and it already felt like family again, which is the feeling that I have always loved about being at ASU."
After training at such a high level of intensity, coming back to ASU has also allowed her to enjoy the sport for what it is. On top of that, she has enjoyed studying again and having a distraction from water polo after training full time for a while, something she says has been great for her mental health.
Now back in Tempe, she's enjoying her final few weeks on the team and spending as much time as possible with her teammates while relishing in the community that ASU has offered her.
Playing water polo for 15 years comes with many challenges and accomplishments. Along her journey, Rogge has learned many lessons, including the importance of living in the moment and appreciating her time as a Sun Devil.
"Enjoy the moment," Rogge said. "Being a senior made me realize how fast the last years have gone. At times, things can be hard, they can be stressful, and I think being a student-athlete sometimes makes you forget about all of the things that you actually love about being a student-athlete because it can be really hard. Really take the time to appreciate the fact that you're here and appreciate your teammates, the program and the fact that water polo has allowed you to join such a great community at ASU."
Rogge will be graduating with her bachelor's in Biomedical Sciences from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and is looking into a few different paths after graduation.
She would like to play professionally back home or in Europe, but she is considering pursuing an online master's to survey her options. She also hopes to get a job in a biotechnology enterprise in the future to go along with her major.
For now, her focus will be on the 2021 Summer Olympic Games, and you can be sure that all of her Sun Devil teammates will be cheering her on the entire way through.
Born and raised in Longwood, Florida, senior water polo defender Belen Ehinger is no stranger to the heat of the Valley.
Along with the exceptional water polo program that ASU has, the year-round warmth in the state reminds her of home and is one reason she chose to play here.
She started playing water polo only three years before arriving in Tempe. She successfully made it on the team as a recruited walk-on, which she describes as one of her most significant accomplishments.
"Being able to come to a top-five D1 program, I was fortunate enough to talk to Todd about that opportunity," Ehinger said. "It's honestly just one of the things I'm most proud of, walking on, after not having played that long, and then still being here and now graduating with this team."
Moving across the country has been one of the most significant challenges Ehinger has faced. Still, when she arrived, she was grateful to have a relatable group of girls to connect with among the large student population at ASU.
"It was great coming here and already having sort of a built-in family within the team," Ehinger said. "It's been a lot of fun going through the challenges and hard practices and plays every day with my best friends. We're forced to spend so much time with each other, but it's a lot of fun."
Enhinger has created life-long bonds with many of her teammates. She has enjoyed witnessing the accomplishments that many of them have celebrated and considers her teammates some of her biggest inspirations.
"I definitely look up to some of my teammates, past and present, that have just been really hard workers," Ehinger said. "One of the seniors, Bente, is literally going to the Olympics, and she is one of the hardest working people I know. It's been really fun to play with her and get to see that, and then other players that have already graduated set the tone for my expectations for myself and for the team going forward."
Like many of the other players on the team, Ehinger's favorite memory was the trip she took to Australia during her freshman year.
"We did some training there. We played in a bay in the ocean. It was really cool. There were really high decks, walkways around, and we just played in the middle of those. Then we did open water swims, which was scary and I actually got stung by a jellyfish, but it was worth it. It was fun."
In a few weeks, when she graduates, she says having these kinds of experiences with her team and spending every day with them will be what she misses most.
"It's basically my job to hang out with them and play a sport that we all love, so I'm definitely going to miss that, and just the whole team community. I think it's unique to anything else that is coming in the future," Ehinger said.
Come post-graduation, Ehinger will be putting away her swimsuits and caps as she heads to Chicago for her new job as a middle office analyst for Northern Trust Hedge Fund Services, where she'll be able to use her bachelor's in math to great use.
As for future student-athletes coming to ASU, Ehinger emphasizes how important it is to form connections with your teammates and other athletes, and focus on your school as it is the vehicle that allows you to play the sport that you love.
"Be ready to work really hard, physically and mentally every day," Ehinger said. "The most exciting part of coming here is that you're super focused on your sport and your team and everything, but don't forget about school, because that'll definitely catch up to you. Just really enjoy your teammates, and other athletes, and even people in your majors. Make friends in a lot of areas, not just with your own teammates."
Staying focused on her school is one of the many things that Ehinger has learned throughout the past four years, along with the importance of time management and sticking to commitments that she makes, all crucial aspects of being a student-athlete.
As for the water polo program's future, Ehinger says that she sees a lot of potential in the current freshman class and believes they will do great things as we soon enter a post-COVID-19 world.
"Our freshman class is really good and really promising, so I think setting the tone for that, and for recruiting, I think it'll do really well," Ehinger said. "Things are kind of starting to pick up again after COVID, that kind of rocked the boat a little bit, but I think we're getting back on track now, so it'll be really good going forward."
While she wraps up the final season of her college career, Ehinger will continue to enjoy the time she has with her teammates and work on some of the crafty hobbies she has picked up recently, such as painting and reworking some of her home decor.
Moving 9,916 miles away from home is no easy feat, but senior Chelsea Karimazondo has been able to persevere and make her college experience an unforgettable one.
Karimazondo moved away from her home country of Harare, Zimbabwe, to attend ASU in 2018. Excited for her new journey to begin, she didn't struggle very much during the few weeks of being in the United States, but after a while, she was hit by the shock that comes with moving to a new country.
"I think I definitely underestimated how hard it was going to be at first," Karimazondo said. "I got here, and I was like, 'Oh, this is fine. I can do this. It's really okay.' Then a month in, it really hit me. I said, 'Oh, wait. This is real and happening, and I can't just hop onto a plane and go home.' It was hard, but I think having the team that I did made it so much easier."
Before arriving at ASU, Karimazondo had been playing water polo ever since she was 12 years old. She met coach Clapper before her recruitment and had a few coaches back home who had attended ASU, which all played a role in her decision.
Her experience on the team has been nothing short of positive, and as graduation sneaks around the corner, she will miss the community she's been a part of for four years the most.
"I love my teammates and our coaching staff. Everyone is so great and so positive, and we have so much support as well," Karimazondo said. "I think the best part is obviously playing with my teammates and the team that I do have. I think I'm really lucky to be surrounded by the people that I am with every day."
As she reflects on her time on the team, she can't pinpoint one specific memory that she loves the most. Instead, she has a collection of them that she experiences every time she is in the same room as her teammates.
"I think my favorite moments are just anytime we're in the locker room together because everyone's having a laugh, cracking jokes, always listening to music, and having a good time," Karimazondo said. "It's always fun. Our warm-ups are so much fun, so anytime that we're all together and listening to music is really great."
These small moments that she has experienced over the years will be difficult to part from, so she has learned to appreciate them more as her college career comes to an end.
"I'm going to miss having a team around me all the time," Karimazondo said. "I take so much for granted how I never, as much as I have made friends, I have never really had to try to make new friends, especially when I got here because I immediately had 16, 17 people who had to speak to me. I am going to miss being able to say 'Hey, who wants to go out and get food or get ice cream or go and do this' and having six people who immediately say, 'Oh, yeah, I could do that.'"
Karimazondo looks up to many great athletes such as Allyson Felix and Serena Williams and has taken inspiration from them throughout the years. Still, she also considers her mom one of her biggest heroes.
"She's one of my biggest supporters and just a phone call away. Because I'm so far from home, and I don't see (my family) in person ever really, just being able to know that I have such a good support system behind me is really nice."
Having that robust support system that Karimazondo speaks about is crucial as a student-athlete, but so is believing in yourself and giving it your all, even during difficult times.
"However things turn out, as long as you have given it your best, that's the best that you can do," Karimazondo said. "And you just have to be able to be okay with having tried your hardest and knowing that's what you did, no matter how things turn out."
For future student-athletes who are moving away from home and are having lingering doubts, Karimazondo says that freshman year can be the most difficult as you get accustomed to a new place, but these challenges come and go and help foster growth.
"It can get rough sometimes, but just push through and persevere because it does get better," Karimazondo said. "You make so many amazing connections, and everyone is trying to help you out there, so just push through, I think personally through freshman year, and it will be okay after that."
As for the next steps in her life, Karimazondo is looking to use her bachelor's in speaking and hearing sciences to attend grad school for nursing or speech language pathology. She hopes to practice in a new country now that she is wrapping up her time in Tempe.
"I think my biggest idea is going to England and studying there. That's always been something that I wanted to try and do," she said. "I think it's a whole new experience. I've done this now, so now I want to go to a whole different place."
Meanwhile, Karimazondo will be enjoying the end of the season with her teammates and working on her hobbies of knitting and furniture building that she picked up during quarantine.
When senior Meghan Beaudet began playing water polo at the age of 10 in her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the sport was not very popular.
"We were the only water polo team in New Mexico at the time, and the first time I started practicing, our goal was two cones and a broomstick, and then, as I got a little bit older, we were able to get cages and stuff. We kind of developed the program," Beaudet said.
Now 12 years later, Beaudet has had a full-circle moment and coaches for the same club she was a part of when she was younger. The coaching is allowing her to pay it forward and teach younger girls some of the skills she has acquired during her college career.
"We have some girls on our club team that are often going and playing water polo at college, which was far and few between when I was in middle school and high school. It just wasn't really a thing," Beaudet said. "Now we're producing a lot more talent, and I'm so proud of how far that they've come, and I want to help in any way possible to keep pushing that."
After years of playing in a smaller water polo community, the time came for Beaudet to choose a college to play for in 2018. She decided to attend ASU because of its top-five program and her familiarity with the state, which stemmed from family members who had also attended the university.
Her favorite part about being a Sun Devil has been the group of girls she's been able to play with, as well as the opportunity she's been given to grow as a person and player in such a supportive environment.
"I love my team. I love the girls on my team. I love the talent and the diversity," Beaudet said. "Everyone cares about everyone so much, and they really want to foster your growth. I think also the improvement that I've been able to make, it has been on a completely different level than anything I've ever participated in."
During her time on the team, Beaudet has inevitably created strong bonds with many of the girls on the team and considers every moment together a memorable experience.
"Just candid moments of hanging out. I love some of the antics that we kind of get up to when we're traveling," Beaudet said. "And just spontaneous moments, weird moments that I can look back on and laugh. They're just great supportive friends."
With so many talented individuals on the team, Beaudet has learned throughout the years the importance of being kind to herself and not comparing her progress or accomplishments to that of others.
"Don't be too tough on yourself. Initially, when I started playing out here, I was so hard on myself because you see girls that are on international, national teams, and I'm from this really small water polo community in New Mexico, and I just felt like I had to be perfect all the time," Beaudet said. "Once I learned that it's okay to make mistakes and that you're not going to get it the first time, it made my life and the way that I view myself so much better like I can really appreciate myself, and progress that's being made."
When times get tough for Beaudet, and she needs a reminder to continue pushing through, her mom is someone she can always count on.
"My mom has been there from the very beginning," she said. "She helped foster my love of swimming. She's the one that went and took me and found me a swim team to join because she saw my potential. She's my number one supporter, and times where it felt like it was so hard, and I couldn't balance different things in my life, and I just kind of wanted to quit, she pushed me."
As she reflects on her time at ASU, her greatest accomplishment has been the ability to play at the D1 level that the program has established. This has been especially rewarding since she came from a much smaller water polo community in Albuquerque.
"I was told one time that I could be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond, and I decided that I wanted to be the small fish in a big pond and rise to the occasion, and so even being here and training with these girls and girls on national teams from other countries, it's just such an honor," Beaudet said.
Once she graduates in May with her bachelor's in digital culture, she will be attending Durham University in England as a newly recruited water polo player while getting her master's in visual culture.
Before she can move out there to play, though, she will be getting hip surgery this summer due to a few injuries she's had this semester.
"I am going to do everything I can to recover quickly. I want to get right back to it," Beaudet said.
Meanwhile, she will be partaking in many of the hobbies that she lights up with joy when talking about, including playing video games, working on her art, and once she is healed, horseback riding in her hometown.
Ariana Diaz is a junior in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism who will graduate in the spring of 2022. Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, she has interned at knoodle, a PR and advertising agency, and worked in the Cronkite PR lab in her Sun Devil undergraduate career.