Water Polo Club Advances Athletes’ Careers Towards Elite Colleges

(Andra Berkman, Photographer)
Miramonte High School graduates (L-R) Lucy Berkman, Meghan McAninch, Dania Innis and Ally Lurie have played together with the Lamorinda Water Polo Club since the sixth grade. All were recruited to attend and play water polo at elite NCAA Division 1 universities.

    Back in sixth grade, Meghan McAninch might have dreamed about studying at an elite university and playing NCAA Division 1 water polo.
    “But I never thought it was in the cards for me,” she said humbly before a recent Lamorinda Water Polo practice at the Miramonte High School pool.
    “I don’t think I was able to think about the future at that point,” her teammate Dania Innis added with a self-deprecating grin. “I was a bench player just having fun.”
    Seated with the duo were teammates, Lucy Berkman and Ally Lurie. The four 2023 Miramonte graduates first met as Orinda Intermediate School sixth graders and Under-12 Lamorinda Water Polo members.
    This year, UCLA, USC, Harvard and Princeton are acquiring the four Orinda gems, who are academic All-Americans, as well as top USA Water Polo players.
    McAninch will attend USC, Innis at UCLA, Berkman at Harvard University and Lurie at Princeton University. They will all play water polo at their respective schools
    Fellow graduating teammates, who will play for D1 schools, are Kaia Levenfeld of Moraga at the University of Michigan and Sofia Corbett of Oakland at Villanova University.
    Having six members from the same small club commit to elite universities in a single graduating year is unusual. But their success comes as no surprise to those who’ve seen them at work in the water and in life.
    “They are the epitome of good teammates,” said Lamorinda Water Polo Head Coach Guy Baker. “They’ve created a culture that unites them and all the others on the team.”
    Baker joined Lamorinda as a consultant in 2016. At the time, no one knew he would remain its permanent head coach and executive director. After all, Baker was a legend in the water polo world.
    While serving as head coach of UCLA men’s and women’s water polo, the teams earned seven national championships combined. In addition to coaching two USA teams to World Championships, Baker coached three consecutive Olympic medal-winning USA women’s water polo teams.
    “Everything changed for the better when Coach Guy got here,” said Lurie, noting Baker helped them value the importance of doing their best as team members. “We have common trust in each other that translates to friendship and support outside the water.”
    Baker deflected the opportunity to discuss his water polo pedigree. Instead, he turned the subject to the new graduates who are preparing for their final USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics.
    He has witnessed each embrace the values of the team’s acronym, BE GREAT: Behavior, Excellence, Grit, Respect, Effort, Awareness and Team.
    “From an early age, each of these young women were highly intelligent and motivated, setting standards that they played by and lived by,” said Baker. “They work hard, they’re gritty and they also have fun.”
    The born-and-bred Orindans bounce off each other in conversation with respect, patience, humor and interpersonal skills beyond their years. They demonstrate that building sportsmanship, trust and encouragement throughout their formative years can foster group and individual success.
    Berkman said their families deserve significant credit for their success.
    “It’s crazy how much our parents have done; our dedication is their dedication,” she said. “Every family sacrifices so much and misses so many weekends or events just to be here for us. We feel their support.”
    Although the foursome will head to different universities, their paths are destined to keep crossing in the water and out of it. McAninch and Innis will compete against each other several times a year for USC and UCLA, while Berkman and Lurie will compete against each other several times a year for Harvard and Princeton.
    Will they bring their Lamorinda Water Polo grit to the NCAA? No doubt. And each one knows how fortunate she is to have a built-in family of water polo players to help them navigate the newness of college life.

Cameron Sullivan can be reached at cameronsullivan@cameronsullivan.net.

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