When Austin Clark chose to make the transition from competitive swimming to water polo at the suggestion of his father, what he expected would be a natural progression presented much more of a challenge for the swimmer.
“I said, ‘Sure, I’ll give it a shot—let’s try and add a ball to it,’” says Clark of his decision to play water polo. “I had my first practice, and it was a blast.
“But I was not very good when I first started. “I had the swimming down, but adding the ball in was a lot harder than I expected.”
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Now a senior and captain of the varsity boys’ water polo team at Santa Margarita Catholic High School, Clark credits his experience playing multiple positions over the years—such as center, center defender and, more recently, the attacker/driver position—for his depth of understanding of the game.
“I have a deeper connection with the sport,” says the 17-year-old. “Because I’ve played different positions…it’s really helped me understand the sport.”
As a three-year varsity player, but in his first year as captain, Clark’s focus this season is to keep the team united. Santa Margarita boys’ water polo head coach Paden Mitchell feels Clark’s commitment to the Eagles makes him the right player to lead this group.
“Austin is an extremely hard worker and a great asset to our program,” says Mitchell. “His dedication and passion for our sport, program and school have enabled him to step up and lead our team this year.”
Although water polo is known for being a physically demanding and aggressive sport, Clark feels that one of the biggest challenges in his growth as a player has been on the mental side of the game.
“A lot of it is mental for me,” says Clark. “Not only in the game, but warming up for the game, just getting prepared for the games. It’s more mental than physical.”
In the off-season, Clark swims the 200-yard individual medley for the Eagles as a way to support the school’s swim team while keeping his speed up for water polo. He plans to continue playing in college while studying business management, but hopes to do so close to home to remain near his family, a choice the Ladera Ranch resident says is important to him.
Having the opportunity to model the school’s mission—Caritas Christi, or, the love of Christ—through athletics at Santa Margarita has made an impression on Clark, reminding him that the impact the sport has on his life goes far beyond the pool.
“It’s helped humble me and helped me feel more respectful toward that idea,” says Clark. “I’m very grateful to have my abilities and talents, and grateful to be able to play the sport of water polo.”