If you took all the traits that coaches look for in a perfect team captain and put them into a water polo player, you would find yourself looking at UCSB senior and 2-meter defender Katy Kunkel.
Kunkel, who scored her 100th career goal in Saturday’s victory over Loyola Marymount University, has shown time after time why she is one of the country’s best female water polo players. In her second year as captain of the UCSB women’s water polo team, Kunkel has helped lead the Gauchos to one of the program’s most successful seasons in recent memory.
“Katy’s playing tremendous defense, and it’s a role that’s imperative to any team’s success,” Head Coach Danielle Altman said. “She’s playing really smart. She’s been brilliant lately.”
Displaying an ability to shut down the opposing team’s best player and a knack for scoring timely goals, Kunkel has been a steady contributor to the Gauchos’ success all season long. The senior’s most important contribution, though, may be her ability to lead.
“Katy is a great leader. Everyone respects her in and out of the water,” sophomore driver Sarah Kovach said. “She tries to keep everything fun, but she also pushes everyone to be better and she always does everything she can to help the team.”
The pool isn’t the only place where Kunkel succeeds. She is a three-time Academic All-American and was named an MPSF Academic All-Conference selection her sophomore year. Kunkel is also a two-time winner of the Golden Eagle Award, given to the upperclassman on each UCSB team with the highest GPA.
“I came here as a student first, but its important if you’re on a team to be fully committed to both,” Kunkel said. “I’m always trying to just do my best. Things aren’t worth doing if you’re not going to do your best.”
Kunkel’s work ethic can be seen in everything she does, especially when she is practicing.
“I think that practice is 10 times more important than games. As a team we’ve dedicated everything we could to practice, and it’s helped make us successful,” Kunkel said.
Aside from being a role model for her teammates, Katy has also given her two younger sisters someone to look up to. Junior Kristina and sophomore Kacy both play for undefeated UCLA.
“We definitely always followed after her. She’s always been a role model with water polo and academics, and also with her work ethic,” Kacy Kunkel said.
While she has been a consistent offensive threat throughout her four years starting for the Gauchos, Katy Kunkel didn’t realize how close she was to 100 goals until she was told that she was only two away. Always the team player, Kunkel is more concerned with the defensive side of the game.
“You can score five goals, but it won’t matter if you give up six,” Kunkel said. “You have to take pride in the fact that you’re never going to let the person you’re defending score.”
For four years, Kunkel has been a star both in and out of the water, which makes her the perfect captain for the #9 Gauchos.
“She’s by far the person that I’ve felt, and the team has felt, represents us the best,” Altman said. “It will be interesting not having her around next year. We’re definitely going to miss her.”