Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine utility player Lot Stertefeld handles the ball for UH in a match. The senior is one of four players that will be honored on April 13 for Senior Night. | Photo Credit: Ku’ulei Agbayani, HSRN

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility Lot Stertefeld

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED APR 10, 2024

HONOLULU – Perhaps you don’t know her from her sport. You should, but you might not. 

Maybe, you recognize Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine utility player Lot Stertefeld from her day job, working as a student worker on campus serving concessions for Sodexo during other Hawai’i athletic events. 

As an international college student-athlete, Stertefeld must work on campus. With a full-time job’s worth of work in being an athlete, a full load of courses and the slightest social life, having work fit into a schedule can be difficult. Thanks in part to a flexible boss that helps get a schedule that works for the senior, Stertefeld and the Rainbow Wahine have been able to focus on one of the strongest seasons in program history. 

When Hawai’i enters the water on Saturday, it will mark one final time that a special group of four players, three from international backgrounds, take part in a match in the Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex for the Rainbow Wahine. 

Emma Gurasich, Alba Bonamusa Boix, Lucia Gomez de la Puente and, of course, Stertefeld have all seen some incredible moments for the UH program, ranked an all-time program-high 2nd in the nation for the past seven weeks en route to a third regular-season Big West title in the past four seasons. 

From the eastern side of the Netherlands to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, success in the water polo pool is all Stertefeld has known. 

The senior utility player for Hawai’i comes from a water polo background, growing up with a father in Jaap Stertefeld that played the sport and was an official for water polo after his athletic career. With both parents pushing her and her two brothers to participate in team sports, soccer was the first try at athletics. 

“We tried soccer first and… that wasn’t it,” Stertefeld laughed. “My dad was like ‘let me take you to the pool’ and we signed up … I just loved [water polo] so much [that I kept playing].” 

Her two brothers, two and three years older in age, dove headfirst into the aquatic football activity as well, setting the tone and toughening up their younger sister. Stertefeld remembers family time competing on vacation in lakes against her dad and brothers in fun small-sided games. The conversation about water polo didn’t end when the family left the water, either. 

“[My family] are like, role models in water polo … All of our dinners are about water polo,” the senior utility chuckled. “My dad is a ref so he would give me tips, tell me what not to do or tell he saw that was wrong so that was fun on a dining table after a game.” 

Those tips, tricks and tune-ups worked to the favor of a young Stertefeld as she became an elite youth player, helping lead the Netherlands to a runner-up finish at both the U17 European Youth Championships in Serbia and the 2019 U20 World Youth Championships in Portugal. Her international experience also includes a bronze medal at the U20 European Youth Championships in 2019. 

When the time came for a decision on college, Hawai’i was the place that had caught the eye of the Dutch star with the assist of head coach Maureen Cole’s recruiting skills. After the 2019 World Youth Championships in Portugal, Cole sent a message to Stertefeld to test interest in joining the Rainbow Wahine program. To that point, a move to the United States had not crossed Stertefeld’s mind for more than a second. 

That changed after a few messages (and pictures) from Coach Mo. 

“She showed me some pictures of the islands and I was like ‘Sold!’ – like that’s amazing, [the outdoor pool], like all the pools back home are indoors, it’s always gloomy weather, it’s cold, it’s rainy,” Stertefeld said. “[In Hawai’i], it’s sunny all the time so it was an easy choice.” 

The opportunity to mix her prowess in the pool with her love for academics in the collegiate sports model in America also drew the interest of the Dutch standout. According to Stertefeld, it’s difficult to join education with athletics back home in the Netherlands and the chance to combine the two was a major factor in the move. 

Stertefeld has gone on to double-major, seeing herself dive into the world of both sociology and psychology as her majors. While rocking out in the pool, the senior has dominated in the classroom as well to the tune of multiple all-conference academic recognitions and a placement on the Big West Commissioner’s Honor Roll as a junior. 

Once she’s done in the islands, Stertefeld plans to pursue a masters’ degree in sports psychology in London with a desire to continue staying in athletics and working with future college student-athletes.  

The marriage in the pool has worked in both the senior and Hawai’i’s favor as the Rainbow Wahine have gone 66-17 over the four-season partnership, seeing three regular-season conference crowns and a Big West Championship win in Stertefeld’s freshman season – which she and other seniors referenced as one of their favorite memories while at UH. With a win on Saturday, Hawai’i would clinch the second perfect conference slate in the last three years and the third time since joining the Big West. 

Overall, Stertefeld has been a part of a historical group of Rainbow Wahine in the pool. For anyone who paid attention to her entire journey, the massive heights that the ‘Bows have reached this year and before are no surprise. For Stertefeld, the journey has been the transformative experience of a lifetime. 

“I feel like I just grew a lot here as a person,” the Dutch senior reflected. “The first time I’ve lived by myself, speaking different languages, meeting so many great people, getting to play under Coach Mo and Coach [James Robinson], I think [the entire experience has just] been great.” 

Hawai’i wraps up the regular season on Saturday, April 13 at Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex against UC Santa Barbara at 6:00 p.m. HT and will honor four senior and head coach Maureen Cole, who is retiring after 13 seasons at the helm of the Rainbow Wahine program. UH enters the contest on a six-match winning streak and is looking for the second unbeaten conference season in the past three years. 

For the seniors, it’s about going out on the right note for themselves, Coach Mo, and the wonderful fans of Hawai’i. The experience is something that they will never forget. 

“I’m super grateful to have spent my years in Hawai’i and to play for such an amazing state,” Stertefeld reflected. “It just feels like we are so supported and loved and that’s just a really special feeling. I’m really thankful for that and I’m sad to leave but excited to look forward in my life.”