Our women’s water polo team here at Stanford is pretty damned good — as in, top three best teams in the country kind of good. For the past two years, they’ve won the NCAAs, and both years, Sophia Monaghan’s been there to witness it. The outcome of the third is just around the corner.

Sophia’s had her toes in the water since she was eleven — a love she likely inherited from her mother, a swimmer. “I’ve always been kind of in the water realm,” she says. She grew up playing for the Princeton University boys club team and ended up winning gold medal in the Junior Pan American games with the Junior National Team in Montreal. “That’s what got me recruited here,” Sophia says.

But playing with Stanford’s team is a whole other ball game. “It’s very intense, like a full time job. But you get to do it with seventeen of your best friends. I love my team — luckily, because I spend four hours a day with them!” Sophia says. In between morning weights, daily practice in the water, watching videos and games on the weekends, girls practice at least twenty hours a week.

As with any sport at this high of a caliber, the emotional ups and downs are just as intense as the time commitment and physical demand. The most critical moment was last year after a defeat to Cal (ugh, we know). “I remember everyone looking at each other like, ‘that will never happen again’,” Sophia says. “That was a moment where I felt everyone was so unanimously on the same page — without having to say a word.”

Beyond team spirit, it’s this kind of unparalleled mutual understanding that makes it worth it to Sophia. “Sometimes you hate the sport,” Sophia says. “Then one of your teammates who’s having a good day picks you up, and the next day, when they’re having a shitty day, you pick them up. That’s why I don’t know if I could ever play an individual sport like that.”

But ultimately what takes it away is moments like last year, when the team won the national championship here at home. Sophia remembers a huge crowd above them in awnings. “They were above our backs, so we couldn’t see them,” Sophia says. “But looking up after we won, seeing hundreds and hundreds of students you didn’t even know… like the entire Stanford community was there, celebrating our win. It was pretty unreal.”

What seems even more unreal is how one can be this committed to a sport — and still equally committed to school. “Our coach puts a lot of emphasis on student athlete — as in, student first,” Sophia says. “It’s the reason we’re here, at the end of the day. I would definitely see academics as my first priority.” For Sophia, that means global health and human rights. As a junior majoring in HumBio and minoring in French, Sophia aims to work for Medecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).

That leaves her with one more year to dedicate to water polo. Are the girls going to take it away for the third year in a row? “I have confidence in our team,” Sophia says. Let’s just say it’s been fairly swimmingly so far.

By: Anne-Sophie Bine
Photography by: Mason Smith