Catching Up With Wagner’s Water Polo’s Kimberly Watson

Wagner's Kimberly Watson. Photo Courtesy: Wagner Athletics

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

LOS ANGELES, CA. It seems hard to believe that scoring sensation Kimberly Watson will be leaving the Wagner Women’s Water Polo Team at the end of this season. Four years ago the Pointe-Claire, Quebec native arrived in Staten Island as an untested freshman and spent her first few seasons under the protective wing—so to speak—of Jess Lundgren, who with 428 goals is the greatest offensive player in Seahawk history.

But Watson has been no offensive slouch. Her 285 goals scored over four seasons to rank third on the all-time list, while her leadership skills have continued an amazing string of success. Wagner has won five-straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) titles, are on a 44-match conference winning streak, and the of 2018 class is tied for the most wins in program history with 105.

The past two seasons, Watson and her teammates have achieved success beyond what even the most optimistic Seahawk follower might have imagined; back-to-back NCAA play-in victories over UC San Diego, including a 10-7 overtime win last Tuesday at USC’s Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

Capturing the first-ever NCAA tournament wins in school history was a team effort, but Watson has been a catalyst for Head Coach Chris Radmonvich’s squad; she was recently named 2018 MAAC Offensive Player of the Year, a repeat of the honor she shared in 2017 with Iona’s Hannah Schultz.

Now comes the biggest test in program history: a matchup today against USC at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center in the quarterfinals of the 2018 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Tournament. The host Trojans (23-1) are both the nation’s top-ranked squad as well as the number one seed in this year’s national championship.

As she prepared to play what may be her last-ever match for the Seahawks (25-6), Swimming World caught up with Watson to speak about her time wearing the green and white, her bond with junior teammate Erika Hardy, the demise of Hartwick women’s water polo, and what perhaps seemed inconceivable four years ago: life after Wagner.

– Joining a Seahawk team that was just starting to enjoy success must have been both thrilling and challenging.

I always knew I wanted to play water polo in college. Staying on the East Coast was a great opportunity for me to stay close to my family. It’s only a six hour drive north so I get to see my family a lot. I love New York City—it’s lots of fun.

Freshman year I came in [and] didn’t really know what to expect; in fact I didn’t know anyone on the team.

I had the opportunity to play with some phenomenal players and learned so much from my captains [Jessica Burdge and Rachel Burns] and other teammates that year. The following year I had a bigger role on the team [and] played a lot more minutes. Junior year is where I really picked it up. Erica Hardy and I—we’ve been training together since we were 12 and grew up together—we always know where each other are in the pool all the time. So it will be fun to play with her one more game.

– From 2015 – 16 your Wagner tenure overlapped with Jess Lundgren, the great Seahawk.

At first playing with her I was a bit intimidated, because she was such a strong player. Learning to cover her was beneficial for me, especially these past two years, has helped me to play against opponents who were more challenging. I learned a lot from her, and it was great to play with her those two years.

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Seahawks Celebrate Five MAAC Titles. Photo Courtesy: Wagner Athletics

– Talk about your relationship with Erika Hardy.

We’re not only friends in water polo we hang out together outside of polo and are very close. It’s been fun to be at Wagner with her and grow and learn together. I’m so excited to see what she’s going to do next!

– You and your teammates are facing the Trojans for the first time ever—and in their home pool.

They’re a phenomenal team. We’ll look to play our game, not focus so much on who we’re playing against. Working and playing together will be an advantage because we work so well as a team.

Playing at [Uytengsu] will be awesome. I have so many memories from Tuesday [when Wagner beat UC San Diego]. I’m looking forward to it.

It’s their home pool but I don’t see that as an advantage. If you have water, you can play a game.

After graduation you’ll move to St. Andrews and play water polo in Scotland.

I’m getting a scholarship for a master’s degree in international business, which is something I’m passionate about. Plus I wanted to keep playing water polo.

I don’t know what to expect but I’m really looking forward to going to the University of St. Andrews.

– Hartwick is eliminating its women’s water polo program this year. Tori Wilson is a Canadian player on the team; do you know her?

Water Polo Canada is a small world, so you know who each [Canadian] is on other teams. Last year at the NCAA banquet, all the Canadians grouped together. So I am familiar with Tori Wilson, though I don’t know her well.

[Hartwick eliminating polo] is really sad to see. I’d never want this to happen at my Wagner program, so I hate to see it happen to another program. I did sign the petition to stop this [decision]; they’re an awesome team and have been great for East Coast water polo.

I wouldn’t wish that on any team.

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Author: Michael Randazzo

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Michael Randazzo is a freelance contributor at Swimming World focusing on water polo. He covers polo all over the United States for SW and other publications, including the Collegiate Water Polo Association, Skip Shot, The New York Times, Total Water Polo, Water Polo Planet and others. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children and roots for St. Francis Brooklyn polo.

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