Looking back over Ruth Milne’s career, it’s hard to imagine that at one point she was only a few dollars away from never touching a water polo ball.
The junior goalkeeper broke UCSB’s all-time saves record just two games into her junior season and now has 904 saves as a Gaucho. In 2011 she was awarded second team All-Big West honors and was an honorable mention All-Big West player as a freshman. At Woodside High in Redwood City, she was named team MVP four years in a row, and has played for the Stanford Water Polo Club, the U.S. Junior National Team and was a member of the Pacific Zone team that won the 2006 Zone Championships.
Yet despite a lifetime’s worth of achievements in the sport, Milne has not always been a water polo player. In fact, it was never her idea to play.
“My dad actually forced me to play water polo,” Milne said. “He told me he would pay me to go to practice.”
Before Milne turned to water polo, she was a basketball player and had also played soccer. At 5’11”, she has the height to play a post position in basketball and as a goalkeeper, which was her position when she played soccer. When she got to high school, she had to choose whether she wanted to keep playing basketball or give water polo a try. In the end, she chose the pool over the court, the net over the hoop.
“I hated [water polo] for about the first two weeks,” Milne said. “After that I started to really get into it.”
Though Milne was a great player in high school, her team failed to meet the standard she set. According to her, the only reason colleges took notice of and recruited her was because she played club water polo and for the national team. And once she did start the process of deciding where to play in college, UCSB was not at the top of her list.
“I was originally getting recruited to Stanford and bigger schools, and I always assumed that I would be going to a bigger school like UCLA or Stanford, but some of them backed away because of my grades,” Milne said.
Unfortunately for Milne, the high school goalie class that she graduated with was extremely talented, which limited the schools that would recruit her. It was her desire to play and improve that drew her to UCSB. The Gaucho coaching staff promised her a chance to play right away and she jumped at it.
“The goalies that did go to bigger schools ended up on the bench their first year, and I don’t think I could have stayed on the team if that happened,” Milne said. “This was also the friendliest and most inviting team I visited on my recruiting tour. If I had the chance, I would make the same choice again.”
It was her work ethic and desire to play that also drew UCSB’s coaches to Milne.
“When she came in, I knew she wanted to go to a school where she would play right away because that was the only way she would progress,” Head Coach Cathy Neushul said. “I watched her play on the junior national team, and she was absolutely the one we wanted. I did have a choice, but the feedback I got from her coaches drew us to her.”
Playing every day for UCSB has turned Milne into the player and athlete she is today and has led her to all her accomplishments in the sport, including setting UCSB’s new all-time save record.
“I was kind of frustrated because I really wanted to break it my sophomore year, but we had to forfeit like five games,” Milne said. “It was really exciting when it did happen. I actually didn’t know anything about [the record] until near the end of my sophomore year.”
Playing every day has also turned her into the leader that she is today. As a goalie, she is the team’s anchor, and every day she works to fill that role as best she can and do what she can for the team.
“The main thing about Ruth is she definitely has a work ethic that is unparalleled,” Neushul said. “If she makes a mistake, she can immediately get herself and her team refocused. If I had to have one person lead me into battle, it would be her.”
Yet even now, three years and 904 saves later, Milne’s life is still not all about water polo. Fierce competitor though she is in the pool, outside of water polo, she is a very easygoing person.
“I love watching movies because I’m a film major,” Milne said. “Water polo kind of takes over my life, but I really like just hanging out with my friends and teammates.”
At first, balancing school, water polo and a social life proved difficult, but Milne eventually settled in.
“It was really hard my freshman year,” Milne said. “I struggled a lot making the change. All the girls are really helpful and encouraging. It’s just something you get used to. It’s like having a job; it’s preparing me for life after college.”
Though she still has one more year left at UCSB, during which she is guaranteed to surpass 1,000 career saves, Milne is already beginning to plan for a future when she’ll no longer defend the net for UCSB.
“I’ve been talking to some friends who played abroad and to my parents, and I’m thinking about playing professionally in Europe,” Milne said. “Playing professional water polo isn’t too difficult because it’s kind of a small sport, though it is bigger in Europe than America. Or, maybe I’ll go to grad school.”
But before she leaves, Milne still has unfinished business at UCSB. She wants to reach that 1,000 save mark, which will surely prove well worth the few dollars her father spent as a friendly bribe all those years ago.
“I’d love to be able to win the Big West,” Milne said. “In the past it’s been kind of a far goal, but next year a lot of teams are losing a lot of players to graduation and we’re only losing two. I’d also like to make first team All-American.”