Water polo is fighting through a tough new conference this year with none other than sophomore psychology major Maryann Slama at the helm as the team’s leading scorer, with 50 goals this season.
The Canadian native was just named GCC Player of the Week on March 26 and despite her dominance in the pool, her teammates know her for her positive, calm character.
“She’s just this very quiet, kind, passionate young woman who [is] very strong in the water,” said junior driver and team captain Lora Donaldson. “[She’s] very technical and smart with water polo play.”
The sophomore has been swimming since 5 and started playing water polo at 8. She knew she would have to attend college in the U.S. in order to play collegiate water polo. According to Slama, collegiate water polo in Canada is “very limited.”
So she applied to APU and Cal Baptist and ended up choosing Azusa Pacific after visiting campus — a decision she said quickly turned her freshman year into a time of spiritual growth.
“My water polo team was filled with a bunch of ‘God First’ people, and I had never experienced that before,” Slama said. “Coming here, people were just so encouraging and so engaged in their beliefs.”
Slama attended private, Catholic schools her entire life and was surprised at APU chapels, which she initially thought would be equivalent to Catholic masses.
“It was awesome. It was like a party compared to what I was used to,” Slama said, laughing. “Masses … are very structured and we don’t listen to contemporary music.”
During her freshman season, Slama had to adjust to a higher level of competition and a different style of play to go with slightly varying rules. Slama recalled feeling scared during her first game but quickly grew in confidence after she scored two goals.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I can actually do this. I can keep up with these people and I can succeed,'” she said.
Slama played in every game her freshman year. Head coach Julie Snodgrass said at first she was “astonished” at Slama’s joy of working out and playing hard.
“She always had a smile on her face, and she was so excited to be in the weight room at 6 a.m.,” Snodgrass said. “She still has that passion and intensity and is willing to just really work hard. She’s been a joy to have since day one.”
This year, the team is playing in an NCAA Division II conference instead of an NCCAA division and is facing much tougher opponents. Slama said the coaches have switched their approach and players have been training harder and conditioning more.
Compared with last year, Slama is still a hole guard, but has expanded beyond defense. Teammate Alynn Reade, a sophomore utility player, said Slama guards, shoots and transitions between different roles on the team.
“This year she’s really … developed into an offensive [player], someone who can control the ball really well from the perimeter and also finish shots and scores from center or the 2-meter line,” Snodgrass said. “Her vision has increased and improved, and she’s doing a phenomenal job. She’s also developing and coming to understand that even though she’s still a sophomore, she’s a leader on the team.”