Goalie Carlee Kapana on UCLA Water Polo and Beyond

Photo Courtesy: MINETTE RUBIN

.By Rachel Andersen, Swimming World College Intern.

A few weeks ago, the seniors at the University of California, Los Angeles walked across a stage to receive their degrees after years of hard work, sweat and tears. Completing a degree at UCLA is no easy feat. However, while all of the graduates labored to achieve their goals, some walked away with far more than just their alma mater in their rear-view mirror. Carlee Kapana, goalkeeper for UCLA’s women’s NCAA water polo team, crossed the stage with her fellow seniors. It not only marked the end of her time at university but also her time with her team.

Swimming World was able to catch up with Kapana on her experience at UCLA as she moves on to a new chapter of her life.


Photo Courtesy: Carlee Kapana as goalkeeper. Instagram, @uclawaterpolo

A Developing Star

With 14 years of water polo under her belt, Kapana is no stranger to the pool. She thrives in competition and loves every save she makes in front of the cage. For Kapana, it doesn’t matter which team she plays for to be successful and contribute greatly. She says, “I’ve played for Newport Club, Newport Harbor High School’s team, the national team, and UCLA.”

Before jumping in at UCLA, Kapana already had experience at the international level under her belt. “I practiced with them (the national team) some of my sophomore and junior year of high school. Then my senior year, I started playing in tournaments with them – once in New Zealand for the intercontinental tournament and then again in Italy that same year for a training trip and a game against Italy,” she says.

Yet even with all her experience, Kapana admitted that she too felt nervous when confronted with water polo at the collegiate level. When asked about whether or not she felt anxiety when joining the UCLA team she responded, “Definitely! But I had some senior national team tournament experience going into college, so the high-level competition wasn’t too nerve-racking.”


Photo Courtesy: Carlee Kapana sizes up the competition. Instagram, @uclawaterpolo

Stepping into the College Scene

Despite the pressures in a high-performance environment, the transition to college wasn’t all nerves. Kapana comments, “Once I got to college, juggling water polo and academics got easier because I had more time to study and less classes. Even though the material in college was more difficult than high school, I found that I was better at managing my time in college, which made it easier to juggle water polo and academics.” Playing at the top of your game is just as important as studying at the top of your game.

Not to say that she didn’t go through difficult times at UCLA. The most challenging part of Kapana’s experience was the distance from loved ones. “I would say the hardest thing was the fact that water polo is very time consuming and gave me a limited amount of time to go see my family in Hawaii,” she says.

Carlee Kapana’s Impact

With all the ups and downs that come with being a collegiate athlete, Kapana has consistently performed for the UCLA women’s team. She helped to lead them to four consecutive appearances at the NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championships, keeping the Bruin’s championship dreams alive year after year.

In losing Kapana, UCLA will be out of a player who was honored MPSF Newcomer of the Week in her first year, has made over 500 saves over her four years, and who racked up a career-best 234 saves this year. To top it off, she earned ACWPC 2019 All-America recognition. Yet Kapana’s presence on the team cannot be simply summarized with stats alone.


Photo Courtesy: Carlee Kapana makes a save. Instagram, @uclawaterpolo

On the goalkeeping side, Kapana was a consistent helping hand to the others training. Whether it be explaining drills or leading by example, she was a mentor to the up-and-coming goalies for UCLA. To the rest of the team, Kapana served not only as an amazing goalkeeper but also a friendly leader. She was an approachable, smiling face who was willing to listen and talk if need be.

That’s a Wrap

When asked about her time on the team, Kapana has this to say: “Absolutely amazing! The past four years have been the best four years of my life, and I have my teammates and coaches to thank for that! I learned something new every single day, whether it be from my teammates, coaches or managers.”

Despite her career at UCLA coming to a close, Kapana isn’t ready for her time with water polo to end. “I really want to continue to play but, I think I’m going to take a break for a year and maybe just travel around and have some fun along the way!”

Both in and out of the pool, Kapana continually supported her teammates, making the UCLA women’s water polo team stronger and more competitive than ever. In the next chapter of her life and career, we can be confident that she will continue to be a leader – whether her path be splashed with chlorine or not.

Kapana will be succeeded by Jahmea Bent and Georgia Phillips next year.

-All commentaries are the opinion of the author. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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3 years ago

Such a nice article on a truly fantastic goalie–and human being.