UC San Diego Women’s Water Polo Coach Brad Kreutzkamp is a firm believer in the concept of his team’s offensive success being directly related to its ability to create “man-up” situations—that is, getting opposing players ejected. The key to generating those advantages lies primarily with the player operating out of the two-meter position. In the case of UCSD, that would be 5-foot-11 junior Melissa Bartow. The Walnut Creek native has drawn a team-leading 36 ejections and her 21 goals put her well on the way to a third consecutive 30-goal season. While Kreutzkamp readily lauds Bartow’s numbers, he’s equally effusive about elements of her game that are much more basic. “Mel definitely provides strength in front of the cage and has always played at a high level,” says the fourth-year mentor, whose team is ranked 15th nationally and has won its last eight games. “But what I really like about her is the passion, enthusiasm and leadership she brings to the team on a daily basis. You can’t teach that.” Getting ready to fly with her team to Hawaii where the Tritons will play four games in four days, including three against opponents ranked in the top ten nationally, Bartow took time to talk about her position, the improvement of this year’s team and her hopes for the remainder of the 2013 season.
Q—You spend most of your playing time at the two-meter position, the center of action in one of the most physical of sports. How rough is it in there?
BARTOW—Pretty rough but to be honest I am used to it by now so the physicality is just normal for me.
Q—What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you playing water polo?
BARTOW—I’ve been pretty lucky and have not received any horrible injury from water polo, knock on wood. But, after a good weekend of water polo I’ll usually have bruises on my arms and chest from people grabbing onto me.
Q—For the layman, can you explain the basics of your task on both the offensive and defensive ends?
BARTOW—Offensively, it is to get to the center of our half court and be a center threat, and draw ejections. Defensively, I have play good defense and not get kicked out.
Q—Given the nuances of your game and your position, you’re usually not going to be among the leading goal scorers. What gives you the most satisfaction?
BARTOW—Drawing ejections and seeing my team score off of the man-up situation I created. It always feels pretty awesome when I draw a five-meter, which allows my team to have a penalty shot, and they score.
Q—The 2013 Tritons are a very young group (no seniors). After an up-and-down start, the team has won eight straight. What’s been the key to the improvement and how much better do you think your team can get?
BARTOW—Our team chemistry is pretty amazing and we all have a fun spirit about the game. I think this is finally translating into our game and making us successful. We have the potential to get much better.
Q—Thinking back to your freshman season, describe yourself as a player then and compare that to where you are now.
BARTOW—Freshman year I was a goofball that just loved to play water polo. Now, I am the still the same goofball but my knowledge for the game has drastically increased.
Q—As a freshman, you were part of a team that won the WWPA Championship and went to the NCAA Championship in Ann Arbor, MI. What is your fondest memory of that trip?
BARTOW—One day Brad said we were going to go see this rock that is famous in Ann Arbor that has been around forever and it is painted by students for all types of reasons…birthdays, presidential elections, protests, athletic events. And when we arrived at the rock one of our teammate’s parents that live in Ann Arbor had painted the rock as a yellow water polo ball and UCSD Women’s Water Polo. I’m pretty sure someone probably painted over it right after we left, but it is cool to think that we were a layer of history in the paint on the rock that will be there forever.
Q—How did you get involved with water polo? Did you start your athletic career in other sports?
BARTOW—I played every sport growing up—basketball, soccer, lacrosse, cross country/track, and baseball. I swam since I was four years old and soccer became my main sport until 7th grade when best friend told me she was going to play water polo this summer and I should play with her. My mom asked me “Well, would you continue to spend your summers playing soccer in the heat or play water polo in a pool all summer…?” Needless to say, I stopped playing soccer that summer and started playing water polo and the rest is history.
Q—Did things “click” for you right away or was there a pretty steep learning curve? What was the most embarrassing thing that happened to you as a novice player?
BARTOW—The most embarrassing thing to happen to me as a novice player….well I don’t really get embarrassed too often so I’ve probably done extremely embarrassing things but nothing sticks out to me.
Q—Did you have a tough transition from high school to UC San Diego in terms of water polo?
BARTOW—I wouldn’t say the transition was too tough, I am a pretty easygoing person and a hard worker so it was pretty easy to mold well into a new situation.
Q—Aside from polo, what were you most surprised about going from high school to college?
BARTOW—School had always come easy to me growing up and I never had to work too hard to get good grades. But, coming to UCSD I learned that this old mentality was not going to fly here, so I began to have to study extremely hard for school. I was surprised when my work ethic paid off and I began to receive some good grades in classes that my peers told me were impossible.
Q—What are your impressions of Head Coach Brad Kreutzkamp, both on the deck and away from the pool? How has he helped your game?
BARTOW—Brad is an awesome coach, he takes his job very seriously and can be pretty tough on us on the deck. But, when he is away from the pool he is a pretty cool guy to hang out with.
Brad is a coach of extremely weird quotes. For example, he was trying to explain how he wanted us to act on our man down defense and he said, “ I want you to act like cats chasing a crazy laser pointer” There could probably be a book of these.
Q—How important is team chemistry to success at the college level?
BARTOW—Team chemistry is the most important part in our team. Our team is extremely small and we act like a giant family.
Q—On this year’s roster, who is the funniest, who is the most serious and who is the best-dressed?
BARTOW—Funniest: Our team is full of goofballs but I would have to say Courtney (Miller) our goalie wins this one.
Most Serious: Mamma (Leah) Gonzales for this one, although she may kill me. But, she is one person who is always on top of her school work.
Best Dressed: While you will usually see most of our team dressed in suits around campus Jolene Guiliana, always dresses to impress and gets at the rest of our team when we wear sweats to school.
Q—If you had to choose one “non-aquatic” sport at UCSD, in which would you be most likely to succeed? Least likely?
BARTOW—I would love to be on the triathlon team, it may seem weird cause of my size you may think I’m a slow swimmer/runner, ut, I am one of the fastest people on our team as far as swimming endurance goes and love to bike, the run part would be hard, but I think being on the tri team would be super fun.
Least likely would probably be crew. I have no idea how they can wake up so earlier for practice.
Q—You’ve listed the beach and watching sunsets as two of your favorite things to do? What is the best beach in San Diego and where is the best location on campus for watching the sunset?
BARTOW—The best beach in San Diego is either Moonlight in Encinitas or Marine Street in La Jolla. The best place to watch the sunset would be on the cliffs by campus there is a secret spot that has a front porch swing attached to a tree with a view of La Jolla and the ocean. You will have to become my friend to find out where exactly this place is!
Q—You’re a Human Development major. What has been your most interesting class to date? Where do you hope to go with that after graduating?
BARTOW—Philosophy 27. It was about the philosophy behind euthanasia, abortion, and aid to charity. If you talked to any of my close friends or teammates they would tell you I think about my dreams for after college a lot and change my mind a ton about what I want to be when I grow up. So this week my dream for after college is to be part of a non-profit charity organization that works with children in some way and ultimately, one day I dream I will co-run a non-profit organization with my sister that links elementary schools in America with schools in developing nations.
Q—With a year and a half to go in your collegiate career, what are three things you’d like to accomplish before you graduate? What would make the 2013 season a success from your perspective?
BARTOW—1. Win WWPAs and go to NCAAs. 2. Become involved with a charity organization. 3. Live in the moment and enjoy every moment.
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