Athlete Profile: Haley Conner ‘15

Haley Conner '15 has been playing water polo nine years and will likely play in the sprinter position this season.

What is your position this year?
[I’m] one of the faster players on the team, [so] probably this year I’ll end up being the sprinter, so the person who goes for the ball initially. But I think overall just driver.
How long have you been playing water polo?
Since eighth grade, so nine years. It’s been a while — my brother [Will] started playing first and then I got jealous, so I started playing afterwards, but it’s a big part of my life.
Is he why you started?
Do you practice with Will? Or is it something that you keep separate?
If I played water polo against my brother, he would destroy me. He’s definitely going to play Division I. I think when we were a lot younger — so he was probably in fifth grade and I was in eighth — for the first month we played micros together at Stanford. He’s a lefty and I’m a righty, so we would have these crazy counter attacks and pass to each other even though I was two and a half years older. I think just because it’s a different game [for men and women] it’s hard to have girls and guys play together, but it’s fun to watch him play.
How is college-level water polo different than high-school level water polo?
Getting to live with the girls [on] the team is definitely a different aspect — you become a lot closer, they become your good friends, so in that sense it’s different. But it’s probably a very comparable caliber of play.
Do you live with your teammates now?
I have lived with different members of my team over the years. Currently I don’t live with anyone on the water polo team, but the four seniors minus LillyBelle [Deer CMC ‘15] live in the senior apartments at CMC. [It puts us in] super-close proximity — we hang out a lot, we make dinner. It’s just really nice being so close to everyone. There’s definitely a different level of friendship and camaraderie, so it’s nice.
Did you always know you wanted to play water polo in college?
I think yes. When I was applying, I was definitely looking at all the schools that [had] water polo. I was looking at some Division I [schools] — mostly east coast Division I — like Brown and Bucknell. [Water Polo has] just been so much fun and a huge part of my life, so I wanted to continue it. I think it’s made my college experience — this is probably comparable for all other college athletes. You have that close-knit friendship and group of people that are almost like a family for you. People that do debate or other on-campus activities — it’s pretty similar [for them] — but I love having the team.
Why did you choose a DIII school?
Because you can be a student, athlete and still have fun. DI is a huge time commitment, so you either choose to go out and hang out with friends and play water polo, or be a strong student and play water polo. But here at a DIII school you get the full spectrum of it, and I think we get the best of both worlds.
Men’s water polo is infamous for being super physical — can you talk about that aspect in women’s water polo?
It’s a very different game. Still water polo, but on the men’s side they have a lot of upper body strength, [and] there’s a lot of outside shooting. I would say that on the women’s side it’s actually more physical. Maybe people will argue with me for that, but I think there’s a lot more driving and inside movement [and] face-to-face close contact. We also have more suit, so people can grab it. [They] are holding on and you don’t see that as much on the men’s side as on the women’s. I think it’s a very physical sport and most of it occurs under water, so if you don’t know the sport you don’t really know what’s going on until people come out of the pool with scratch marks everywhere. You don’t notice until you hear blood-curdling screams [or] someone just disappears.
And the refs can’t do anything.
I think as a ref it’s hard because most of the stuff that happens isn’t on the ball, so they have a priority to figure out [if it’s] a foul on the ball — what’s happening there — and then to watch two meters, so [for] anyone else on the perimeter [anything is] kind of fair game. Unless you’re calling attention to yourself by splashing or making noises, people don’t really know what’s going on. You just don’t know to look for it. It’s pretty funny — you can get away with a lot because of that.
What is Coach Greg Lonzo like? What is his dynamic?
Lonzo played for Pepperdine. In his time in college he went up against Tony Azevedo, who’s [the] current best water polo player — Player of the Year — [the] best U.S. player. So [Lonzo] is a very strong player. He is a wonderful coach. [He] really encourages us to do our best and pushes us pretty hard. I think that having someone who’s played the game and knows the game makes it a very different dynamic, at least compared to my coach in high school. But I think a big distinction between the [coaching] in high school and now is that our team — we play for ourselves, we play for each other, but we also play for our coach, and we want to make him proud. I think that’s a big aspect that has led to our success, and I really hope that he pushes us extra hard this year. We have nine incoming freshmen, so it’s a little bit of a transition year, but I think we can win SCIACs [Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference] if there’s that extra push. We have to go for it.
What is your way of balancing sports with school?
What’s nice is that out of season — so the fall for the women — you can take your harder classes. If you’re a science major, that’s when you take your labs, and you have a lot more time. We only have a couple weeks of off-season practice. We do two captains practices a week, and lift occasionally, so I think you have to manage the classes you’re taking and when you take them. But definitely knowing that if you have four morning [practices] a week, you’re going to have to get your work done earlier in the day so you can go to bed early. Because [if not], when you wake up at 6:15 or 6 o’clock for practice, you’re going to be exhausted for the rest of the day, and it’s going to be really hard to get stuff done. In that sense you have to be really good at managing time. I think having a team — having teammates in your classes — that’s another good thing, too, because you can check where you are with work [against] where they are, and [you] kind of know if you should be doing more or less.
What is your favorite part about the game?
Just getting to be super competitive. Watching the game on the men’s side [and] seeing all the really cool shots — outside shooters, bar ins, that sort of stuff. Playing the game, when you get to support your teammates or when you make an assist or you score a goal and you know that everyone is there supporting you. You’ve made them proud, you’ve made your coach proud, and you’ve made a difference. That’s something you really get out of sports, and it’s something you need to look for in other aspects of your life, which I’m going to have to figure out soon. [It’s] just being competitive and having a great time. It’s a pretty aggressive sport — it’s not like soccer where you can just pick up a game. You need some pretty aggressive reffing.