Water polo is consistently listed as one of the world’s most demanding sports, beating out rugby and rivaling alpine skiing in ESPN.com’s Sport Skills Difficulty Rankings. With intense power plays and the often vicious maneuvering that occurs under the water, water polo is a grueling sport – it’s also the sport that Amber Shah, 20, excels at.
Shah is a sophomore goalkeeper for Palomar College’s water polo team, currently ranked ninth in the state according to jcwaterpolo.com, with 222 saves.
Tall, lean and with a powerful build, Shah’s last seven years building her prowess in the sport are evident, and looks just as comfortable in the pool as out.
Growing up in Oceanside, Shah is no stranger to water sports, competing throughout her high school years as a surfer. Many of her friends in the surfing scene were involved in water polo, an element that initially drew her toward the sport, according to Shah. However, social circles were just the spark – much of her interest in water polo stems from its inherent difficulty.
“It was just […] the challenge of the sport, being in the water and playing such an intense, hands-on, contact sport that drew me towards it,” Shah said. “I’m very competitive in what I do.”
Just as much as the competition of the sport, the close sense of community that Shah finds in water polo.
“Just being close in a family with this sport is phenomenal. We’re so close as a team that we’re almost closer than my family and I,” said Shah
However, no matter how close her team is, there are drawbacks to playing on a team for a community college like Palomar, where students frequently come and go. According to Shah, its one of her least favorite aspects of her sport – more than watching teammates transfer, she has to readjust to the changing team structure.
When asked about how long it takes to relearn the ways that new teammates prefer passes or direct their play, Shah estimated half a season.
And with a semester game schedule that lasts only a little more than two months before potential roster changes, it becomes clear that a large part of Amber’s success is in her ability to adapt fast.
Despite all the difficulties, Shah described water polo as a rewarding sport, and one she highly recommends. Her advice to anyone interested in the water polo is to train hard, and realize that you only get out what you put in.
“This definitely isn’t a half-ass sport.” Shah said.