Mexican Water Polo Team Aims For Olympics With Commerce’s Help

Local women sign up for a chance to vie for ‘gold’ in the 2012 Olympics.

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

Since arriving in Commerce two weeks ago, Mexican water polo player Carina Carballo and her teammates have had very little time to sightsee.

“We’ve done hardly anything. This is our life – we eat, sleep, and practice water polo,” says the 19-year old Carballo.

This summer, the City of Commerce is playing host to the Mexican national women’s water polo team now training under the guidance of Commerce’s long time water polo coach Gabriel Martinez.

The team, composed of twelve players from Mexico and eight Mexican-American players recruited from Commerce, hope to make it to the Olympics in 2012. Martinez says he picked more players than would make the final team in order to keep them working hard and hungry through the summer.

Commerce’s water polo coach, Gabriel Martinez, pictured in a striped shirt, was picked to train the Mexican national women’s water polo team to compete in the Pan American Games, a qualifier for the 2012 Olympics. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)


The team is set to travel to China in August for a major tournament, and will go on to Guadelajara, Mexico in October to compete in the Pan American Games, a lead up to and qualifier for the Olympics.

The Olympic hopefuls train three times a day, several of them at the Commerce Aquatorium, and the rest at Fullerton College where Martinez coaches the women’s water polo team. On weekends, the team’s schedule is booked solid with water polo matches.

This exclusive focus on water polo is a good thing, Carballo says, because “we’re in our own little bubble,” protected from their usual distractions at home in Mexico.

While being in the U.S., especially in California, gives the Mexican team the opportunity to sharpen their skills in matches against some of the world’s top teams and players, being stationed in Commerce also means their Olympic dreams appear that much closer to reality.

Two former Commerce water polo players, Brenda Villa and Patty Cardenas, trained under Martinez before going on to become Olympians. Villa was the first, captaining the U.S. team in the last two Olympics as they claimed silver medals. Cardenas joined Villa in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 to help the U.S. team take the silver.

For 20-year old Giselle Naranjo, one of the players from Commerce looking to join Mexico’s team, the legacy of Villa and Cardenas continues to inspire youth in the small industrial city just east of Los Angeles. “They were good role models, so why not keep playing water polo?” she says of her reasons for considering a professional future in the sport.

Commerce water polo players also credit the city for giving them financial support and opportunities to travel to away games where they were exposed to top coaches and scouts from throughout the country. This often led to the city’s players getting recruited to colleges like UCLA and Stanford.

Read this story IN SPANISH: Equipo Mexicano de Polo Acuático Aspira a llegar a los Juegos Olímpicos con la Ayuda de Commerce

Naranjo, who now attends UCLA, says at first she “didn’t realize how much prestige the colleges had,” because she knew nothing about colleges and was the first in her family to attend.

The partnership between Commerce and the Mexican women’s water polo team began when Martinez was picked to be the Mexican team’s coach.

“Gabriel came to us a couple months ago… he originally wanted to get permission [to use] the pool and weight room,” said city Councilwoman Denise Robles.

But Mayor Joe Aguilar suggested the team stay in a city-owned four-bedroom home that was vacant at the time. The Mexican government pays for the team’s travel expenses, and gives them some extra funds, but “we want to help as much as possible especially because we have hometown girls on the team,” Aguilar said.

The Mexican government recruited many of the U.S. based players from Commerce because water polo is a “white dominated sport, with only a handful of Mexican American water polo players in the United States,” says Priscilla Orozco, 22, who with her younger sister Sarah, is a product of the Commerce water polo program. Both went on to play for the UCLA women’s water polo team.

Many of the top college-level Mexican-American players in the U.S. happen to be from Commerce where a strong water polo program exists for a mostly Hispanic population, according to Orozco.

The Commerce community has since embraced the Mexican team into their “family,” with local clubs like the Lions, Rotary, aquatics booster, sister city, and garden clubs coming together to donate furniture and appliances. They are still trying to secure more beds for the twelve players from Mexico, Robles said.

In terms of ranking, the Mexican team members admit they have no history of success. What’s more they are smaller, younger, and less experienced when compared to top teams from the US, Canada, Cuba, and Brazil that usually boast players who are tall and strong.

But members of Mexico’s women’s water polo team say with the training they are now getting with Martinez, they feel for the first time like they have a chance at entering the ranks of the world’s top teams.

Height for example has not been an issue for some of the top players coming out of Commerce’s water polo program, with both Villa and Cardenas becoming world-class athletes even though they are shorter than most other water polo players.

The Commerce players say their Mexican teammates were taught a more aggressive style that lacked finesse, but are now learning to bring more technical prowess into their game.

With the Olympics qualifier being held in Guadelajara this fall, the Mexican government began investing more into all of its sports programs, including women’s water polo.

The extra attention and financial support from the Mexican government has done wonders for the self-confidence of the players, who are more accustomed to living in the shadow of other sports programs.

“This is an opportunity for us to actually qualify for the Olympics,” whereas before they had no reason to hope, Carballo says.

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July 28, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


2 Responses to “Mexican Water Polo Team Aims For Olympics With Commerce’s Help”

  1. Rick Carrillo on October 12th, 2011 7:07 pm

    “Viva Mexico !!!!”
    The best of luck to all of you girls & Gabriel (and staff) from a fan in San Diego (Rick Carrillo – San Diego Shores parent). I am proud of all the things you are doing.

  2. Katie Verdugo on May 25th, 2012 8:00 pm

    You can do it girls love all you guys!!! known the commerce girls since the start i love you GABRIEL!!!!<33333

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