For Sophia Monaghan, coaching was a primary focus of her experience this summer in her 10th and final campaign with the Nassau Swim Club Lemmings.
“I came into this season more as a coach than as a swimmer,” said Monaghan, who guided the 10-and-under swimmers for the Lemmings.
“I had a very good group. I don’t think I had a swimmer who came to practice who didn’t improve or have fun. It is so rewarding to have had the 10-and-under swimmers; it is an age group where they really look up to the older kids. My being able to swim helped. They would come up and say they were going to watch my race. I would support them and then they would cheer me on. It is not professional coaching; it is a community thing.”
Monaghan still had time to earn cheers for swimming, taking first in both the 18-and-under 50 freestyle and 50 backstroke and placing third in the 50 fly at the Princeton Area Swimming and Diving Association (PASDA) championship meet in late July.
“I just wanted to be able to swim fast and do it for fun,” said Monaghan. who graduated from the Lawrenceville School this spring and is headed to Stanford University where she will be a member of the Cardinal women’s water polo team.
“When I was younger, the PASDA meet was a big deal. It definitely made me want to swim. Swimming in a year-round club can be tough; some kids burn out. The sense of community and encouragement that you get at Nassau makes kids want to compete. It helped shape me as an athlete and as a person.”
For Monaghan, that competitiveness manifested itself in water polo as she was a four-year starter for the Lawrenceville team and rose through the Olympic Development Program, playing for the 2012 USA Women’s Water Polo Junior team in the Under-19 Pan American Championship last summer in Montreal, Canada.
After finishing the PASDA meet, Monaghan headed to California to compete with her Tiger Aquatics water polo club team in the Junior Olympics.
“The team has a range of players; water polo is growing on the east coast,” said Monaghan.
“We were 9th in the gold division. We were pretty happy with that. We weren’t happy with some of our close losses. The junior national team is a lot more of an individual focus. The Junior Olympics is a team and club focus. It is more fun. You are playing to win with your team rather than trying to make a team.”
Playing with the national program, though, helped put Monaghan on the path to college water polo.
“It started in my freshman and sophomore year when I started doing Olympic development and got to go out to California,” said Monaghan. “I saw how much I loved the sport and I realized that I could play with the girls out there.”
Monaghan fell in love with Stanford years ago and was thrilled to get recruited by the Pacific 12 power.
“I had wanted to go there as a school since 7th or 8th grade, it was always a dream of mine,” said Monaghan, who was a team captain for Lawrenceville and helped the Big Red go 18-1 last winter on their way to winning the prestigious Beast of the East Tournament.
“They have been ranked No. 1 for water polo. It didn’t always seem realistic. When it got to be a possibility, I realized that I wanted to play at the highest level of water polo. I wanted to give myself the chance to be the best water polo player I can be.”
As Monaghan looks forward to starting her college career next month, she knows she has to raise to the level of her game.
“A big challenge is seeing how I play going from east to west coast; it is a really different game out there,” said Monaghan, a 5’9 center-defender.
“We only have three or four girls that are not from California. I am going into this year looking to learn as much as I can. I don’t know how much playing time I am going to get; we have Olympians and it is a star-studded team. My goal is to get in and play and show some improvement.”