The Mystique of Stanford Athletics: A Woodhead Perspective

Dylan Woodhead, star for Stanford, follows in his mother Laura's footsteps. Photo Courtesy: Bryan Williams

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

PRINCETON, NJ. Laura Woodhead is not your typical water polo mom. The accomplished lawyer from the San Francisco Bay Area was a member of two Stanford Pac-12 conference champions (1987, 1988) under head swimming coach George Haine; in 1987, she helped the Cardinal place 2nd at NCAA and was at Stanford before Janet Evans, a gold medalist in three events at the 1988 Olympics, arrived in 1989.

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Laura was no slowpoke; the first swimmer from her high school in East Gaston, North Carolina, to go to Stanford, she was a seven-time North Carolina High School AA state finalist. After retiring from collegiate swimming in 1989, she returned to the pool as a masters swimming for the Olympic Club in San Francisco. In 2006, while competing in a FINA World Masters Swimming Championship, she swam the breaststroke leg of the club’s silver medal effort in the 200 Medley Relay.

One of the best moves she made was to marry Jeff Woodhead, a Cal guy who rowed crew; this union of rivals has produced a bountiful for Laura; her sons Dylan and Quinn have perhaps wisely followed their mother’s lead to The Farm, where both are valued members of the Stanford water polo team. Their daughter Ella is still fair game in the war between the Golden Bears and the Cardinal.

Swimming World caught up with Laura at the Princeton Invitational, where both her sons were on the pool deck for Stanford—though Dylan was also prepping for a trip to join the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team in Berlin on Tuesday for the FINA Men’s Water Polo World Cup 2018.

– You’re in a “mixed marriage”—you graduated from Stanford and your husband Jeff went to Cal. And now your boys both chose the Cardinal.

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A source of controversy in the Wooodhead household. Photo Courtesy: Laura Woodhead

He was very disappointed initially, especially with Dylan, because Dylan had been mostly a Cal kid growing up. [Jeff] said that when Dylan chose Stanford over Cal, he felt like Hans Solo when he took the lightsaber through his body from his son [Kylo Ren] and fell off the sky bridge to his death.

But Jeff’s come around and he’s finally wearing a Stanford shirt to the water polo matches. It’s taken a couple of years but he’s matured. I eased him into it with an all-black polo [shirt] with a small red “S.” He’s very proud that both of his sons are at Stanford now, but he may not admit it to his Cal buddies, and he’s focusing these next four years on convincing our daughter Ella (14) to go to Cal.

– You’re a Stanford graduate who swam for their team. How proud are you to have your sons follow in your footsteps?

It’s super special. I feel incredibly lucky and thankful for all of their coaches, teammates and others who have helped them along the way. They have worked hard but to be given this opportunity as brothers to play together at Stanford is a little overwhelming to me. Swimming at Stanford was one of the most rewarding experience of my life. To know they’re experiencing something similar is really rewarding, especially as a parent.

– There’s some bigger new for your son Dylan. He’s flying to Berlin for a shot at the U.S. Senior National Team.

Yes, very exciting times. To make the final roster for Berlin is an incredibly opportunity. I think they are taking 13, and 11 will suit up for each game; [Dylan] knows to take every one of these opportunities and make the most of it. He’s worked hard and it will be a great experience.

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Ben Hallock. Photo Courtesy: Bryan Williams

The fact that he gets to go with his roommate, Ben Hallock, is awesome.

– For such a young player Hallock is extremely accomplished.

Yes, he’s an incredibly gifted athlete. I’m equally impressed by how humble he is. You’ll find at Stanford that a lot of the great athletes are extremely humble—and Ben is one of those.

– There’s a mystique about Stanford from both the academic as well as the athletic sides.

I’m definitely biased but Stanford recruits student-athletes who want to be their best in everything they do. They’re hard workers, they’re motivated, and there’s this legacy that builds once you get there and join a team. You’re surrounded by like-minded athletes that are on the same journey.

I’m one of the many alums who are incredibly proud of the Stanford swimming program. The program continues to grow be more successful every year. The swimmers who are coming through the Stanford program are incredible student-athletes and role models. The back to back national titles in 2017 and 2018; I don’t know if you’ll see teams like that again at NCAAs.

I enjoy being a Stanford swimming alum…even if it was a long time ago.

2 Comments

2 comments

  1. avatar
    Amber

    Thanks for sharing! I’ve wondered about the Woodhead boys and how they both arrived at Stanford. What a treat for their Mom to see them play there together! Congrats!

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Hi Amber:

      Thank you for your thoughts. I’ll admit I was a bit tongue-in-cheek when it came to the Cal / Stanford rivalry (and you gotta feel for Mr. Woodhead, whose alma mater didn’t get ANY consideration from his kids… so far!).

      On the larger question of “mystique” it’s clear (to me) that success breeds success – and the Woodhead boys certainly are on a fast-track to polo success!

      Your correspondent

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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