POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. - Leading into this weekend’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Championships, the Marist water polo team finds itself seeded third after finishing with a 24-11 overall record and a 10-2 mark in the MAAC. Much of this success can be contributed to many of the familiar faces in the pool for the Red Foxes this season. Coming into college is one of the biggest transitions in most students’ lives but adding on the pressure of new teammates, coaches, and opponents is a daunting task for anyone. But for eight of these Red Foxes, this transition was made easier as they had the familiarity of playing with or against each other prior to Marist. These prior relationships allowed these players to come into college with an immediate chemistry and sense for one another in the pool, a skill that often takes time to develop.

Sophomore Anna-Lena Hathaway (Pasadena, Calif.) and freshman Ellie Hoffman (Pasadena, Calif.) like to refer to their friendship as a “Romeo and Juliet” story.  Hathaway played for Falcon Water Polo while Hoffman played for Rose Bowl Water Polo, known rivals in the pools of Southern California. Hathaway states that she and Hoffman have always been friends despite their teams’ big rivalry, saying that she can remember them laughing while playing against each other in high school while their teammates looked on in confusion. “It was not difficult coming together at Marist to play because we were always friendly and reached out to one another in high school. We immediately had a good connection,” said Hoffman.

Both Hoffman and Hathaway feel like their previous friendship gave them some advantages in the pool as well. The two players say that they feel they have helped each other grow and strengthen their game and contribute a lot of it to knowing how to encourage and console one another effectively. They have a natural sense for one another, with eye contact as their only necessary means of communication while in the pool. “She can just give me a glance during a game or at practice and I fully understand what she is trying to say,” says Hathaway.

Twin sisters Alison Hamby and Jessica Hamby (Sacramento, Calif.) played for both the Granite Bay High School water polo team and the American River Water Polo Club. They have played water polo together since they were in eighth grade and have such a chemistry in the pool that they often have spectators from the stands come up to them after the game commenting on it. Their great ability to read each other so effectively is uncanny, “I know what kind of passes she likes, what move she wants to do, and when to give her the ball or not,” says Jessica. The Hamby twins also feel that eye contact is all they need to communicate in the pool, “She can just look at me in a certain way and I will know she wants to make a run,” says Alison. They also credit their success in the pool to one another, stating that they often push the other to go harder. “We know each other’s limits,” adds Alison.

Sophomore Hannah Levien (Davis, Calif.) was no stranger to the Hamby twins. Levien played for the Davis Water Polo Club, which was the rival team of the American River Water Polo Club where the Hamby sisters played. In addition to their club teams, their high schools Granite Bay High School and Davis High School were rivals. But this rivalry did not hinder their relationship coming into Marist. “Our clubs had a similar coaching style so we knew we would blend well and knew how the other played, it allowed for a much easier transition,” says Levien. Levien states that her coaches always made her guard the Hamby sisters during the numerous games against one another, which allowed them to get extremely familiar with each other’s playing style. This previous experience of knowing how one another played is what the girls called “predetermined chemistry,” even despite their competitive past. Jessica Hamby states that she was happy about gaining Levien as a teammate, “I knew how aggressive Hannah is in the pool and would much rather have her on my team, than play against her.” Allision agreed stating, “Playing against her is much harder.”  

Former North Penn High School teammates Shelby Rinker (Lansdale, Penn.), Brooke Else (Lansdale, Penn.), and Heather Fellmeth (North Wells, Penn.) also feel that coming into the Marist program already friends has had a positive effect on them and their work ethic. Rinker and Fellmeth are seniors on the team, while Else is only a freshman. Else credits her former high school teammates for making her feel comfortable coming into Marist and easing her transition. All three girls state they find their familiarity with one another most helpful in practice. They know what the other is capable of and push one another to constantly reach their highest potential. “Our high school coach instilled an awesome work ethic in us and it is easier for us to push one another and work hard,” says Fellmeth. The three girls said they like to think of themselves as carrying on their high school tradition.

Even though the Red Foxes have so many prior relationships they are most successful when all of these groups, with their own individual chemistry and playing styles, mold together as one unified team.  “The team has done a good job of creating relationships outside of the pool together,” stated Hathaway. Her teammates agreed, expressing that they felt these strong bonds outside of the pool has only reinforced their chemistry and performance inside of the pool. Hathaway continued by saying, “if you like the people you play with, you work harder for them.” Hoffman said it simply in one sentence on what motivates the Red Foxes and allows them to always put their best effort in the pool, “We play for each other.”

Head Coach Ashleigh Huckins agrees that her team is at their strongest when together. “Building chemistry has been our focus with line changes in practice and games throughout the season. It is a pleasure to watch them coming together as a cohesive and strong unit,” says Huckins. She also states their ability to come together and take advantage of their familiarity, chemistry, teamwork, and skills will be a large factor at MAAC Championships, “I believe they are ready to put their best team and individual water polo together this weekend.”

The Red Foxes finished the season in a three-way tie for first place in the MAAC with Wagner and Iona. In a three-team tiebreaker for first place, Wagner took the top seed for the upcoming MAAC Tournament while Iona took second and Marist fell to third. Since Marist had defeated Iona twice, Iona had defeated Wagner twice and Wagner defeated Marist twice, the tiebreaker came down to goal differential in the games played between the three teams. The Red Foxes will play Iona in the first semifinal of the MAAC Tournament on Saturday, April 27 at 1 p.m. at Marist’s McCann Natatorium.

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