Champion leads No. 3 Cal water polo

By Ed Yevelev

Daily Californian, U. California-Berkeley via UWIRE

Remy Champion is not satisfied.

Her third-ranked U. California women’s water polo team just capped off a fairly easy weekend of play with a pair of victories at the Pacific Invitational. Yet all the Bears’ driver can do is point out missed opportunities from a match that had few conference or national implications.

“We definitely could have played a lot better,” she says.

As Champion finds flaws in a 6-0 halftime lead, her competitiveness and yearning to improve are striking.

Upon discovering the depth of Remy’s water polo pedigree, one would expect little else. If anything, the thought of her being bribed with stuffed animals as an 11-year-old just to take up the sport seems even more unthinkable.

Champion is still amused by it today.

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“My parents would … give me a Beanie Baby for every practice I went to,” she says. I really had no desire to try it. I mostly got into it because my sisters got into it.”

Growing up with a trio of accomplished water polo players as siblings, Remy’s resistance was short lived.

Each of her sisters left an indelible mark on her game as she moved from high school star and Junior Olympic All-American to one of the senior leaders on a veteran-laden Cal squad.

“The success that my sisters had always motivated me to do the same-that was what I aspired to,” Remy says.

Early on, those aspirations involved sprinting across the pool-only not to chase after a Mikasa ball in the center.

Remy spent much of her early childhood in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she and her sisters naturally gravitated towards the water.

“(Swimming) started as a water safety thing, then it turned into a exercise thing, and then it became a competitive thing,” her oldest sister Laurel recalls.

At home, Remy could hardly have picked a better role model than her oldest sister Haley, who established the family’s athletic legacy among Palo Alto High’s aquatics programs.

A three-time team MVP at Palo Alto, Haley eventually swam for perennial power Stanford after leaving high school with three school records, a pair of Central Coast Section titles and a slew of All-America honors.

She played three years of club water polo, but it was her swimming prowess to which Remy aspired. As it turned out, swimming and water polo were far more complementary for Remy than they were mutually exclusive.

Her quickness in the pool, developed from years of emulating Haley, helped Palo Alto earn a CCS swimming title. That same mobility perfectly suited her for an attacking role in water polo and gave Remy an advantage over her peers.

“(Her swimming background) really enabled her to have good balance in the water,” Haley says. “So while most people were struggling to learn how to swim, her foundation allowed her to work on other important skills.”

Laurel calls Remy a water polo ‘fanatic.’

As a varsity mainstay for Palo Alto, Remy rarely missed the opportunity to catch live or televised games, and attended at least a dozen Stanford-hosted camps.

On Saturday mornings, a time when kids her age usually avoid educational institutions, she entered her school pool with a copied key to perfect her shooting.

She attributes some of her most valuable playing qualities to Laurel, a two-time varsity captain and four-time all-league pick who moved on to play two-meter defense for the Cardinal.

Remy had always looked to replicate her older sister’s uncanny ability, at any point, to recognize the shot and game clocks, as well as the position of the ball, the defender, and the goalie.

“The way Laurel played was very smart and intelligent. She was always very aware,” Remy says. “She was a player who knew the game very well. You can tell through the way she played, and I really wanted to be like that.”

If Remy’s older siblings provided tutelage and inspiration during her formative playing years, playing with her younger sister Phoebe would help ignite her competitive fire.

Just one year apart in age, the girls made a splash in their three high school seasons together. They each added a League MVP award and four All-League selections to their large collection of accolades.

Despite covering different positions, the pair forged a unique familiarity in the pool.

“We would always try to set up each other,” Phoebe says. “We’ve been playing together for so long that I’d always know where (Remy) would be.”

The same connection that made the sisters such perfect complements during matches also helped drive their friendly but intense rivalry.

“I remember (us) playing on counter-attacks during practice,” Remy says. “Sometimes the play would already have been over, but me and her were still trying cut each other off.

“Our teammates thought it was hilarious, and our coach was glad that we were being so aggressive. We just felt like we kind of had to prove ourselves.”

The competition was put on hold for a few years, with Remy in Berkeley and Phoebe opting to play for Princeton, where the youngest Champion climbed to seventh on the all-time scoring list in just three years.

Earlier this month in San Diego, their rivalry was renewed when Cal took on the Tigers at the Aztec Invitational. Remy smirks as she talks about getting better of her sister in their first collegiate matchup.

“It was really fun to play Phoebe since we ended up guarding each other a little bit more than expected,” Remy says. “She definitely tried to post me up in set and counter me, but I shut her down.”

Meanwhile, Phoebe brags about having beaten Remy in a sprint for the ball that afternoon, throwing in a playful “Take that!” at the end.

“It’s always a healthy rivalry, though, and it really raised our level of competition,” says Phoebe.

She still considers her older sister to be one of the hardest-working athlete she knows. An athlete whose family shaped her game and her undying competitive instinct-the kind of instinct that leaves Remy unsatisfied with a 6-0 halftime advantage.

“It should have been at least 8-0,” she says.

Would you expect anything else from a Champion?

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