Which sport was your favorite to watch at the Olympics? For Xavier College Preparatory sophomore Maeve Jones, the answer almost certainly was water polo.
She took up the sport about two years ago and appears to be a rising star. Miss Jones played in the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics at Stanford this summer and was a captain of the 16 U (under) team. That team was from Utah, and she played on that team because there only are a handful of girls playing the sport in Arizona.
Miss Jones’s 16 and Under Junior Olympic team is making progress.
Back home, she trains mainly with 18-year-old boys at the Mesa Water Polo club. The sport is year-round here, taking advantage of mostly ideal weather conditions.
“The boys are strong and fast,’’ Miss Jones said. “And they know the game well. Trying to play at their level is tough, but I think it might give me a little advantage in the girls competition.’’
She has competed in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events in swimming, but will sit out this fall while she allows a nagging injury to heal.
Miss Jones is a center, or set, on offense, and a set guarder on defense. Players more or less “tread water’’ in the four-quarter games and therefore must have good endurance. But Miss Jones said there also is an element of speed involved.
“Speed is important because you have to maintain it to get your shots off,’’ she said. “You have to swim up and down the pool with your head up and protect the ball. Your stroke is tighter and more choppy.’’
Players also try to kick down in the water to avoid kicking opponents, which can lead to a penalty.
According to Miss Jones, the game is more physical than people realize. She and many other players wear full body suits, which can give opponents an incentive to grab, which also is a no-no.
She will continue to refine her skills over the next three years with the hopes of landing a scholarship to play in college. Miss Jones also is a very good student.
College water polo is heavily weighted toward western schools, including Arizona State. USC defeated Stanford for last year’s NCAA title. Of the 25 teams ranked in late April, 18 were from the West, and 16 of those were from California.
Miss Jones is ready to start her second year at Xavier. Her mother, Josephine, is a graduate of Xavier.
“It will be nice to get back,’’ Miss Jones said. “It was really different, getting used to coming here after grade school. I got to meet a lot of new people and made some friends. It was cool. Everybody has a different story to tell.’’