Water polo team finds inspiration down under


Illustration by Crystall Jeffers

Louis LaVenture,

When we talk about Cal State East Bay water polo, Australia may not be one of the first things that comes to mind.

However, for the women’s water polo team, Australia is a common theme for the squad. In her fourteenth season as head coach, Lisa Cooper has her team sending opponents down under, thanks to the international connection.

Cooper is from Perth, Australia, where she picked up the sport that has become a huge part of her life. Once she began to play water polo at the age of 14, Cooper hasn’t looked back.

She was named to the Western Australian State Junior Team that won national championships in 1996 and 1998. Cooper was also a member of the Australian National Youth Team and National Junior Team before she went to the University of Hawaii to play the sport collegiately.

The link to Australia is obvious, especially when you see the team’s unofficial mascot on the bench, an inflatable kangaroo named “Skippy.”

“Skippy’s been around just about as long as I have,” Cooper said. “It’s pretty symbolic, I even have one tattooed on my ankle.”

Cooper could not confirm how many “Skippy’s” the team has been through or if the inflatable mascot has ever been popped, but some of her players take it pretty seriously.

“It’s become a thing on our team kind of in honor of her,” senior Tori Dettloff said. “It’s Skippy, it’s our mascot for her.”

There are currently two players on the roster from Cooper’s hometown of Perth, senior Casey Rushforth and junior Olivia Mackell, both of whom have been huge contributors on the team this season. The two Australian natives have combined for 14 goals on 47 shots, 17 steals and 22 assists.

“Casey and Olivia are great players to have on the team no matter where they are from,” Cooper said. “They’re naturals in the pool.”

In addition to Rushforth and Mackell, the Pioneers have had several players from Cooper’s native Australia. Kate McAfee, Claire Pierce, Sophie Armstrong, Sarah Grunberger and Sara Hudyn are just some of the players that Cooper has brought to Hayward via her hometown connection.

In 2008, Cooper led the Pioneers to their first-ever NCAA Division III National Championship after the Pioneers edged out a four-overtime victory over Cal Lutheran in the title match.

The championship victory over Cal Lutheran was Cooper’s 100th win as head coach at CSUEB and helped her nab the NCAA Division III National Coach of the Year.

Just a little more than halfway through the season this year’s squad is 9-6 overall and 0-1 in Western Water Polo Association Conference play.

The Pioneers lost in the WWPA Conference championship games last season to the top ranked UC San Diego Tritons 10-8 in Geneva, Ohio.

CSUEB will need to lean on their Aussie connection if they want to make it back to the championship game.