Sports

Yes Virginia, there is a scholarship

Virginia Smith is bound for California with a scholarship and a spot on an NCAA water polo team. - Contributed photo
Virginia Smith is bound for California with a scholarship and a spot on an NCAA water polo team.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Virginia Smith is that enviable combination of brains and athleticism.

For starters, she’s Captain Canada in water polo, and boasts a mark of 100 per cent in International Baccalaureate math at Garibaldi secondary.

She works hard, and she’ll get her day in the sun.

The scholar-athlete has won a four-year combination sports/academic scholarship to the University of Long Beach in Los Angeles.

With the 49ers next year, she will be playing on one of the Top-10 ranked NCAA first division water polo teams in the U.S.

Cal State Long Beach, or ‘The Beach’ as the kids call it, is one of the largest universities in California, with an enrollment of more than 36,000.

The 49ers are building off a historic 2013 season that saw them go 25-7 and jump all the way up to eighth in the final Collegiate Water Polo Association poll.

She visited ‘The Beach’ on one of several NCAA recruiting trips, and it won her over.

“I really enjoyed the environment there,” she said.

Smith plans to study engineering, and is in training for those academic rigours by working her way through the Garibaldi IB program with a 95 per cent average. She has never missed the honour role since Grade 9.

In the pool, she will be a utility player – one of those versatile athletes coaches love, because they can put them into the lineup anywhere.

“I do everything except goalie.”

Smith is still with the Canadian youth national team, and captained the squad to a silver medal at the Pan American Games last summer in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It’s a role that will have her doing some globetrotting. The team does its “centralizing” in Montreal, a city she enjoys, trained in Holland last year, and this summer will be competing in the junior worlds in Spain.

Smith said she enjoys the crisp play at the international level.

“The team really knows what they’re doing, and they click.”

Smith started water polo and competitive swimming when she was six or seven years old with the Haney Neptunes. Two years ago she dropped lane swimming to focus on water polo. She’s in the pool five days per week with the Fraser Valley Water Polo Club.

Her coach, Justin Mitchell, calls her a dynamic player.

“She’s very explosive and incredibly aware on defence,” he said.

“She’s a great player, she’s my captain ... she’s just amazing out there.”

Her solid decisions, good coordination, and strength are all assets, he said.

The Valley club has sent numerous players on to NCAA competition in the past, including Smith’s sister, who is a junior at San Jose University. They look forward to meeting in the pool in the coming season.

Mitchell said the rookies tend to get limited playing time in their first season after making the jump to the NCAA, but generally the Fraser Valley girls have done well.

Smith said she needs to keep working on her game, and maintain strong focus.

“You need to be able to stand your ground,” she said. “Water polo is a tough sport. There’s a tussle under the water that a lot of people don’t see.”

Long term, water polo offers lots of opportunities, including professional teams in Italy and other European countries. But the pinnacle of the sport is the Olympics, and Smith has her sights set on the 2020 Games.

Given that she is a leader on the national team at her age group now, Williams said it’s a goal that she can reach.

“If Canada can qualify for the Olympics, she’ll have a chance at being on the team.”

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