Olympian heads aquatics outreach | February 20, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Sports - February 20, 2013

Olympian heads aquatics outreach

Brenda Villa, the most decorated female water polo player ever (four-time Olympian, three-time world champion) has joined Menlo Swim and Sport, as head of aquatics outreach.

Ms. Villa, who won a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics with the U.S. women's water polo squad, will be in charge of launching a new water polo program for girls 14 and under at Belle Haven pool in Menlo Park. The program, which starts in March, will emphasize reaching girls in the neighborhood. She will also hold girls' performance clinics and camps for experienced water polo players from around the Peninsula.

Cost of the Belle Haven water polo program will be $80 a month, which includes two lessons a week. Scholarships will be available through the Beyond Barriers Athletic Foundation.

The Belle Haven pool is located at 100 Terminal Ave., across the street from the Onetta Harris Community Center. Until this year, it was closed in the winter. Having the pool open year-round for water polo will also give the community more access, says Menlo Swim and Sport spokesperson Gudrun Enger.

Ms. Villa, who now lives in Mountain View, grew up in Commerce, California. She started swimming with a club team at the age of 6 and followed her brother into water polo at age 8. She made the girls Junior Olympic team while in high school. She played with the boys' water polo team at Bell Gardens High School because the school did not have a girls' team.

She came to Stanford University in 1998 as the water polo program's most heralded recruit. She scored 69 goals her freshman year, according to Wikipedia, and was named the NCAA Women's Water Polo Player of the year. In 2002 she led her Stanford team with 60 goals to win the NCAA Women's Water Polo championship. That year she was awarded the Peter J. Cutino Award as the top female college water polo player in the United States.

Ms. Villa won gold in team competition in the 2012 London Olympics; silver in 2000 Sydney and 2008 Beijing Olympics; and bronze in the 2004 Athens Olympics. In team competition in the World Championships, she won gold in the 2003 Barcelona event and the 2009 Rome event, and silver in the 2005 Montreal event.

A co-founder of Project 2020, a nonprofit that helps provide opportunities for low-income youth to have swimming and water polo lessons, she recalls growing up in Commerce, where there were city-sponsored programs so children didn't have to pay to play sports.

"Inspired by my work with project 2020, I was attracted to the strong community environment in the Belle Haven neighborhood and look forward to building our new water polo teams," says Ms. Villa in a press release.


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