With a final water polo season abruptly cut short, graduating scholar-athlete Reilly Gallagher recounts the team’s final days and memories that will last a lifetime.
Leading up to the last day of practice was a surreal experience. Our upcoming weekend was jam packed with games including our third Big West Conference match against Hawaii and a full weekend of play at San Diego State’s annual Aztec tournament. Harvard was one of the first schools to drop out of the tournament, later one of the first major schools to close for the term, and slowly through the week the number of games we were to play fell from five to two. Some of us were grateful for the lighter load on the weekend, as it would mean we’d have more time to prepare for our finals, and we proceeded to practice as normal.
After a killer weights session and an hour of shooting drills in the water, that Thursday our season came to a screeching halt. Our coaches called us out of the pool and informed us that the weekend had been canceled but that they were certain we would be back in the water to battle UC Santa Barbara in two weeks. The rest of the day came in a blur as word slowly came out that the NCAA had canceled all spring competition for the athlete’s protection against the coronavirus, a statement later confirmed by a phone call between the senior captains and head coaches. I left that phone call for my lecture in tears. I hadn’t known that day would be my last competitive moment as a student-athlete in the Triton pool and suddenly my well-structured lifestyle was gone.
Though unfinished, this season we made waves as the first UC San Diego women’s water polo squad competing in the Big West. We also took down big name teams, confirming that we belong neck and neck with any of the top ten programs in the country.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have been granted the opportunity to attend and compete at UC San Diego. I came to this University expecting to leave with a world-class education and the opportunity to play for a top tier water polo program but I get to graduate with those and so much more. While on this team I have learned extensively about leadership, team building, and confidence. We competed against national team players and olympians. I built strength I didn’t know I could achieve with the help of an athletics staff that was invested in the health and fitness of my mind and body. Most importantly, over my last four years this team has given me the honor of being in the presence of, learning from, and working with powerful women every day. As a team we now stay connected over zoom for workouts, film review, and get together for dates like Harper Cup and the Big West Tournament. Most special to me, our underclassmen even presented a set of videos for our seniors on our Senior Night. Even while we are separated, I can feel the love and encouragement throughout the team and I know that these will be my sisters for life.
Our goals this season were high reaching and included a lengthy list of potential championships and won matches but it was most important to our coaches that we found “it”, that special something all great teams have that I can only define as a chemistry between the personalities and athletic talents of its members that sparks greatness. At our opening weekend in Santa Barbara, we had incredible bonding moments on our campsite and took down Cal Berkeley, a team that we had never in our history beaten before. We were starting to feel the presence of that spark. Though unfinished, this season we made waves as the first UC San Diego women’s water polo squad competing in the Big West. We also took down big name teams, confirming that we belong neck and neck with any of the top ten programs in the country. Next season in 2021, the powerful women of this program will have a second shot at the Big West Title and I’ll be cheering loud for them as one of the newest alum.
Reilly Gallagher is majoring in communications with a minor in business. Outside of water polo, she is the president of the a cappella group Duly Noted (follow them on Instagram @ucsddulynoted), the team’s TAC Representative, and a clerk for UCSD Recreation. Next year, she will work toward her master’s degree in marketing and continue playing water polo at Durham University in England.
This story first appeared in the online series, “In Their Own Words” by UC San Diego Athletics.