UCLA has been a huge part of my life from a young age. My mom is a proud UCLA alum who bleeds blue and gold. I was fortunate to have John Wooden’s terminology and wisdom enriched within both my school curriculum and water polo foundation. I had no idea how much the incredible Wooden knowledge I had learned growing up would help me in my time at UCLA, both in and out of the pool.
Going into my senior year of high school, UCLA was the last school to contact me before attending official visits. I was not their top recruit or top interest, but I did not let that cloud my decision. Visiting campus and stepping into Spieker Aquatics Center, I immediately felt so comfortable. Every corner I turned, Wooden quotes filled the walls on campus. One of my favorite John Wooden quotes my parents would tell me since I started competitive sports was “be your best when your best is needed.” During my five years at UCLA, I relied on John Wooden’s inspiration and that quote more than I could have ever imagined.
Reflecting back to my young freshman self, I now realize how much I have grown during my time at UCLA. Like many freshmen going into college, I had a hard time transitioning into rigorous academics as well as college water polo. My role within the program was not what I had anticipated. I ended that first year questioning everything: was UCLA the place for me? Was water polo the right path? I found myself at a crossroads in my college water polo career.
Things really changed for me going into my sophomore season. Coaching and staff changes gave me the fresh start I needed. I changed my cap number to No. 20 and began my first season with coach Adam Wright. Our team did not change overnight – it took a lot of moving parts to get our program in the right direction. The journey I would embark on with my teammates and Adam for the next four years would push me to be a better teammate, friend and student. Wooden’s words still rang true: Be your best when your best is needed. Eventually, I found a new version of my best.
As my team and I began to change and commit ourselves to be better for the group, it translated into our everyday life and the classroom. I began to translate what we learned from the pool into the classroom. You train to play games and you study to take tests – why not treat it the same? I began to enjoy my courses more and found my major, geography.
At the start of my senior season in 2020, our program was heading in a great direction. My team was strong, both physically and mentally. We were more ready than ever to show what we could do. And then in March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled our season halfway through. Like so many people, the pandemic was a challenging time for myself and the team. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I had to come back and compete for a fifth season.
These isolated times during the past year allowed me to build closer bonds with my teammates, as we relied on each other for everything. At times, we were everything to each other. Teammates became family as we leaned on each other to get through the uncertainties we faced. Our 2021 season did not end how we would have liked it, but I have always been a bigger fan of the journey that comes with life instead. I will carry the lessons I have learned throughout my five-year journey at UCLA with me for the rest of my life. Thank you to my incredible teammates, coaches, professors and opponents for pushing me to truly be my best when my best is needed.
I can honestly say that at UCLA I became a better version of myself, and for that I will be forever grateful. Thank you for everything, Bruin community. Lots of Bruin pride here.
Maxson played for UCLA women’s water polo from 2017-2021.