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On Tap with water polo player Kaila Carroll ’24

Kaila Carroll during a water polo game.

Courtesy of Kaila Carroll

The Daily Princetonian caught up over Zoom with first-year water polo player Kaila Carroll, phoning in from her home in Connecticut. Carroll, who had a very successful high school career in her sport, discussed her experience playing water polo, beginning college and training off-campus, and her favorite ways to procrastinate.

The Daily Princetonian: To begin, how did you get into such a unique sport like water polo? 


Kaila Carroll: I started playing at my country club because I had some family friends that played. I initially joined just for fun, but then I started playing and thought that it was really cool. I had never heard of the sport before, but it was super interesting, so I thought, all right, let me try doing this all year round. So, when I was 10, I joined a club and have been playing ever since. 

DP: For those that don’t know, could you briefly explain what water polo is and some of the general rules?

KC: Yeah, so I describe it as soccer in the water. There are six attackers on each side and one goalie per team and, basically, you try to get as many goals as you can. Also, you’re treading [water] the entire time, can’t touch the bottom, and you can only use one hand. There are certain rules with grabbing and kicking as well, but some people still do it if it’s under water and the ref can’t see. It’s a very fast-paced sport, and you’re constantly swimming and moving. You don’t really get that much rest until someone scores. 

DP: Wow, treading water the whole time and only using one hand sounds really tough. So, what would you say are the most important qualities to have in order to be a good water polo player?

KC: You definitely need to be a leader, and you have to be a team player. You cannot be selfish whatsoever, because if you are, there’s no way that you will be able to win. The entire sport is about communicating, passing to other players, knowing how your teammates play, and being a good sport to everyone. You really can’t be selfish, and need to be kind and understanding.

There have been so many instances in the past where people are selfish, or they get mad at their teammates, and it just ends in a disaster. So, you definitely need to have those leadership skills and a sense of motivation because it gets really hard sometimes. Training can be really difficult, and if you have a mindset that’s telling you to keep going, you’ll do really well in the sport. But a lot of people quit and give up because they just aren’t able to handle everything, so a strong mindset is really important.


DP: What was your experience like playing water polo in high school? Was it difficult finding a team to join?

KC: No, I didn’t think it was difficult. So, I had my club team, my high school team, and the U.S. team. All my teams are like my family, and they each had their own dynamic where everyone was close in a different way. And I don’t think it was hard finding myself on those teams because everyone was just really accepting and loved the sport. Overall, it was really enjoyable, and it’s the most fun when everyone is as excited about the sport as you are. 

DP: Did you play in any significant competitions during high school, and what are some of your favorite memories from playing?

KC: So my high school team was kind of a joke just because, in the East Coast, water polo is not big. Not a lot of people know what water polo is, but in California, it’s really popular. And in August, there’s this huge tournament in the summer called JOs, or the Junior Olympics. All the teams come out, and we just play people from all over the country.

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Our girls’ team is pretty good, and even though the California teams always win, we’ve gotten seventh in the nation and 10th in the nation. Overall, we’ve done really well for an East Coast team. I’ve also traveled to Hungary and other places with the U.S. team, and last year, I had to travel to California around 10 times for training trips.

So yeah, there’s a lot of traveling involved, I would say, but the experience is so cool. I get to learn about other cultures while playing water polo, and playing against other countries in big tournaments is something I really enjoy.

DP: What is the most embarrassing or odd thing that has happened to you during a game?

KC: So in a game, there are times when you are driving or running towards the goal with no one around you. The percentage of those shots should be really high, since it’s just the goalie and no defenders. Well, it happens to everyone, but it’s still super embarrassing when you do miss that shot.

So, I was at a big tournament, and I had so many college coaches watching. At one point, I was going towards the goal with no one around me, and I literally shot it at the goalie’s face. I was like, are you kidding? It was just so embarrassing because you’re trying to impress everyone and you’re not supposed to miss when the percentage is so high. You think to yourself, oh God, did I really just miss that? But then you have to pick yourself up and keep going, but it’s frustrating because there are so many people in the stands. 

DP: Would you compare it to missing an open layup in basketball?

KC: Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, if the goalie is really good, it lessens the embarrassment a little, but you’re definitely expected to make that shot. 

DP: Got it. So, how did you end up deciding on Princeton for water polo?

KC: Well, first off, Princeton’s, like, the best school in the entire country, so that was one big plus. Second off, when I was visiting all these other schools for official visits, I didn’t love the vibe. It was very hostile, and I just didn’t feel as welcome. But then when I came to Princeton, everyone was so welcoming. The teammates were so nice, and they were telling me about how great the place was, showing me around and whatnot.

When I went to other schools, it was just like, this is the schedule, and the players were more focused on their own agendas. So I think my official [visit] really helped me fall in love with the school. But also, while I was growing up, I always wanted to go to Princeton. Initially, I was not sure if it would be a possibility, though, because a lot of people that go to Princeton have A+’s and perfect grades in high school. But as I got older, I started to realize that Princeton was within reach, and it became a main focus of mine. 

DP: What does Princeton’s women’s water polo history look like?

KC: So for water polo, there are different leagues, in a way, and in Princeton’s league, our biggest opponent is Michigan. And two or three years ago, we actually beat Michigan, which was super insane because that’s never really been done before. In a broader view though, we’re probably like 10th in the nation for water polo, which is pretty good. But it’s very challenging because the California schools are absolutely insane, and they are way more sports-oriented than school-oriented, so they tend to train way more than us. 

DP: Have you gotten a lot of opportunities to meet your team even with the current pandemic going on?

KC: Oh, yeah. This past weekend I visited Princeton and was with all of my teammates, and I got to do the same thing, like, three weeks ago. I also met them last year because I committed my junior year of high school. So yeah, I’ve been meeting them throughout the last two years. We also text all the time through a group chat, and we Snapchat each other. Everyone’s just been super welcoming, and they’ve made it a lot easier to transition. And with everything happening right now, it’s so helpful to have a team that’s there to rely on. Just knowing that I have a set of friends already is really comforting. 

DP: Have you been able to train with them recently?

KC: No, so we can’t train. I think it’s against the school’s policies right now. They recently sent an email though saying that potentially we’ll go back, but we’re not sure what they will decide for the spring. But for now, we have a conditioning coach, and he sends us a few workouts every week that we’re supposed to do on our own. Some people still don’t have access to a pool, and honestly, some of us haven’t been in a pool since March because of COVID-19.

I’ve been fortunate enough because all of the pools are open in Connecticut, so I still go to practice. I guess I’ve just been lucky with that, but there are many that haven’t been. So again, it really depends on what happens in the spring, but there may very well be a chance that I don’t get to practice with them for a long time. But yeah, we’re still conditioning, we’re still doing workouts. Not together, obviously, but we’re all doing the same things. 

DP: How have you felt about being at home this semester?

KC: I think there are pros and cons to it, but obviously, it sucks. I want to have that college experience, and I feel like I’ve just gotten that taken away from me. And the fact that I might also be sacrificing a full season of water polo is something that I haven’t been able to sit with yet. So yeah, it’s definitely been really challenging because I want to be at Princeton not just for two weekends, but every day. I want to experience everything, meet new people, and make strong friendships, which has been difficult to do right now.

It’s definitely possible, but it’s just a lot harder than it would be if we were in person and able to interact with people. At the same time, though, I think this whole thing’s a learning experience, in a way, and I believe it’ll prepare us more for the future. So even though it sucks, I just have to sit back and hope for the best, and for now, I have the mindset that complaining is not really going to do anything about it.

You just can’t complain right now, because it’s not going to help you. You have to deal with it and make the most out of it, which is what I have been trying to do with my time at home. 

DP: Has it been difficult balancing both school work and your athletic commitments so far?

KC: Yeah. I still practice a lot and train on the weekends, so it’s definitely difficult. But it’s also more laid-back right now than I know it will be at Princeton. It’s still hard, though, because there are some days where I have a lot of homework and things to do, but I have to go to practice, so I don’t end up going to sleep until, like, 3 a.m., which is so exhausting. That’s why I’m a little nervous to do this during season because I’m pretty sure we practice six times a week, and then two times, we have doubles, with practice in the morning and night

 So with the work I have now while not even actually being at school, I’m not sure how it’s going to go when season comes around. I haven’t really experienced what it’s going to be like, but I’ve been told that it’s extremely stressful, and I don’t doubt that. So, I am trying to practice that schedule now, in a way, by going to the practices that I do, which are, like, two hours every night. But yeah, it’s hard, and sometimes I don’t end up going just because I have way too much work to do. I know that I’m not going to be able to do that when I go to Princeton, so I’m doing my best to prepare myself for that stress. 

DP: What class has been the most work so far? What classes have you really enjoyed?

KC: That’s a really good question. I would say the one that has the most work is probably my writing seminar. One that has been really interesting is psych. I like it because you get to learn a lot about yourself and the interactions you have with those around you. It’s been really cool discovering things that I didn’t know about my own thinking and my relationships with people. Spanish has also been pretty fun and laid-back. It’s a good group of people in my class. 

DP: Outside of school and water polo, what kinds of things are you interested in and like doing?

KC: I’m a very active person. I hate sitting still, so I love going on hikes, runs, and just doing activities in general. I like adrenaline rushes and doing things that are dangerous, and there are so many things that I still want to do in my life. But yeah, I enjoy doing fun activities all the time, and I always try to think of things that I could do with my friends, like touch football. Whatever it is though, I’ll usually have fun with it. Overall, I’ve just been very active. 

DP: So, now for a few fun questions. If you could only eat at one fast food place or restaurant for the rest of your life, where would it be?

KC: In-N-Out, because it’s so good. We don’t have any by me, but it’s literally my favorite thing in the entire world. I wish it would come to the East Coast. 

DP: One of my favorites, too. Also, if you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be?

KC: That’s a hard question. You really got me there. I don’t know. I like a lot of artists. Okay, I love country, actually, so maybe the new Luke Combs album, which is called “What You See Ain’t Always What You Get.” I used to hate country, but over the past few years, I’ve grown to really love it. 

DP: And then what’s your favorite way to procrastinate?

KC: I would say going to water polo, FaceTiming friends, going on my phone, watching an episode of “The Bachelor,” talking with my brothers, and listening to music. But yeah, there are just a lot of ways. I do it all the time. Sometimes I even go to practice earlier just to get away from doing work for a little longer. 

DP: What would you say is your biggest pet peeve?

KC: I hate when people don’t try in things and just think that it’s whatever. I also hate when people are unkind, and recently, awkward silence during Zoom breakout rooms is something I’ve come to dislike. 

DP: What is one movie that you will never get tired of?

KC: “Step Brothers,” for sure.

DP: That’s a really good one. And lastly, what are you most looking forward to when you get to be on campus?

KC: Just enjoying the experience and being able to actually see people in class and interact with them not via Zoom. Yeah, I feel like I’m just ready to actually experience college and do the things that college students are able to do. And I am really excited to start practicing again and getting ready for season once sports do come back and we are all on campus. 

DP: Thank you so much for your time.

KC: Of course.