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

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

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.” 

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility player Jordan Wedderburn

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility player Jordan Wedderburn

Big West water polo player of the week Jordan Wedderburn in action in a home conference matchup. | Photo Credit: Ku’ulei Agbayani, HSRN

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility player Jordan Wedderburn

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 27, 2024

HONOLULU – From the stunning “City of Gold” in South Africa to heavenly Hawai’i, Jordan Wedderburn has enjoyed the journey that water polo has carried her on. 

She’s been a quick learner, picking up the sport in high school and taking the path she never truly expected. 

“Growing up [in South Africa], water polo wasn’t really a big sport, so I never really knew what it was until I moved high schools and my new high school that I went to offered water polo and I kind of wanted to try it,” Wedderburn said. “The rest is history; I just went from there.” 

While she’s grown to love the sport now, that same passion wasn’t necessarily there from Day 1 in the pool. 

“At first, I did swimming, and I did netball at home – which is kind of like basketball for those that don’t know. I was kind of just like it ‘oh well, it seems like it’s both of them put together and I’m kind of average at both of them, so I’ll try it out,’” Wedderburn recalled. “I actually hated it, like my first practice I hated it.” 

Yet thankfully, her parents would not allow the then-13-year-old to give up after a single day of the sport, encouraging her to return the next day and give it a week’s worth of a chance. 

That week didn’t change her mind, but it gave her parents enough time to think of a way to keep her in the sport for that season. 

“I went for the first week of practice which was like the worst week of practice ever because it was just conditioning,” Wedderburn laughed. “I didn’t want to carry on, I actually said to my parents that [I was done and didn’t want to go back]. They were like ‘Well, you’ve committed now so you have to go back for the whole season.’” 

After some encouragement from her parents, the young water polo player went back to the pool, making friends that kept her interest in the sport before she finally began enjoying water polo in her later years of high school. By learning the rules of the game, strategies and developing chemistry with her team, Wedderburn quickly developed into an excellent player. 

In four years at the varsity level, she helped lead her squad to back-to-back titles in 2019 and 2020 in the Reef Cup and Old Petrian Tournaments, taking care of business in the classroom as well after receiving the academic award for her junior and senior years. After graduating in December 2020 from high school, Wedderburn had to make a choice between continuing her water polo career or turning focus fully on her studies. 

With the help of the coronavirus shutdown of the world and a strict lockdown in South Africa, Wedderburn decided she wanted to continue her career in the pool in the states and began to apply and reach out to schools with water polo programs, though one place sat in her mind. 

“Hawai’i was always in the back of my mind because … I met one of my teammates now, Bernadette Doyle, at World Champs in 2019 and I had heard that she played at the University of Hawai’i, and I was like ‘Wow, that’s so cool,” the junior utility player remembered. “I reached out to [head coach Maureen Cole] and we chatted a little bit and the rest is history. They offered me a spot on the team, and I was like ‘Okay, it’s Hawai’i, why would I say no?’” 

The junior utility player for Hawai’i women’s water polo has enjoyed success ever since joining the program ahead of that 2022 season, never seeing a schedule eclipse six total losses in two and a half years. She made her debut in her freshman season in Michigan, immediately making a mark by recording her first two points. In all, her first year at the college level was a success with 24 total points recorded (15 goals, 9 assists). 

Her growth continued from there, appearing in all 27 matches during Hawai’i’s 2023 season, seeing the Rainbow Wahine go 21-6 and falling in overtime of the Big West Championship game to UC Irvine, 10-9. In her sophomore season, the South African utility player proved to be a force for UH, scoring 40 goals (3rd-most among Hawai’i players) through the season while posting three hat tricks. Most matches, fans could count on Wedderburn scoring at least once as she put the ball in the back of the net in 21 of those 27 contests. 

That success has parlayed itself into an even better junior season for the South Africa native, already up to 27 goals scored in just 16 matches, including four hat-tricks in some of the Rainbow Wahine’s biggest outings of the season. Following her outstanding performance against USC back on March 16, when the junior utility recorded her third hat-trick of the season to help deliver Hawai’i to a two-game winning streak against the University of Southern California for just the fifth win in program history against the Trojans and first home victory in 21 meetings in Honolulu, Wedderburn was named the Big West Water Polo player of the week for the first time in her career. 

The junior was the record-breaking fifth Rainbow Wahine player this season to be honored, snapping the previous record of four, coming back in the 2013 season. Wedderburn joins Bia Mantellato Dias, Bernadette Doyle, Lucia Gomez de la Puente and Daisy Logtens as Hawai’i players to receive the honor this season. 

Despite the first selection of her career by the conference, the bigger accomplishment in the mind of Wedderburn was helping deliver the Rainbow Wahine’s first two-game winning streak over USC ever, snapping a 27-game losing streak against the West Coast powerhouse in the process. 

“It was insane,” she recalled. “I think we just really got the ball rolling really well in the beginning of the season, obviously with a couple big wins against Stanford, USC and some close games against UCLA as well. It’s just getting that confidence that you do belong up there with the best teams, you know?” 

Once was cool, but twice? 

“Just to [beat USC] again, it kind of just solidified to us that we do have a real good chance of going pretty far this season and we are in reach of our goals. We just need to keep working hard and pushing hard and hopefully everything will work out for us,” she continued. 

The Rainbow Wahine were ranked 3rd in the nation, behind only UCLA and Cal, in the Collegiate Water Polo Association rankings released last Wednesday, March 20. New rankings are released each Wednesday by the committee. Hawai’i won both matches this past weekend, putting on a pair of dominant displays with a 20-4 win over Cal State Fullerton and a 12-4 victory over CSUN. 

Hawai’i returns to action on Friday, March 29 inside the Duke Kamehameha Aquatic Center, hosting UC San Diego with the match scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m. HT.