Emma makes waves

Phillip Brents

Fri January 17, 2014 1:41pm

Otay Ranch High School senior Emma Cornwell was initially attracted to the University of Southern California because of its football team. That was, of course, before she discovered her destiny in the pool. 
Cornwell was among several hundred student-athletes who signed letters of intent to play sports at major universities across the nation during a mass signing ceremony held Nov. 6 at the San Diego Hall of Champions sports museum in Balboa Park.
In fact, the Otay Ranch senior had the spotlight all to herself as the last student-athlete to sign her paperwork.
Cornwell will attend USC where she will play for the Trojans’ defending Division I NCAA national champion women’s water polo team.
Cornwell’s signing is major news for the Mustangs’ aquatics program; school principal Jose Brosz said Cornwell is the first Otay Ranch student-athlete to sign to play for a defending Division I collegiate national champion.
“It feels awesome — I’m really excited to be a USC Trojan,” said Cornwell, who helped the Mustangs girl’s water polo team earn a share of a league tri-championship last season. “It’s an honor to play for a national championship program. I feel blessed.”
Incredibly, Cornwell was recruited after playing only one full season in high school and one full season of club. Prior to that, she enjoyed competing in synchronized swimming. She competed in three national championship events for San Dieguito Synchro, a nationally recognized program.
“When someone on the team told me there was a girl at school who was doing synchro, I knew that synchro meant strong legs and strong legs meant a water polo goalie,” ORHS girl’s water polo coach Ernie Medina said.
The pairing proved to be a perfect match. During her junior season in 2012-13 with the Mustangs, Cornwell set a San Diego Section record with five shutouts while setting school records for saves in one game (17), saves in one season (321), five-meter penalty blocks (six) and goals from a goalie (four).
Cornwell joins several other Otay Ranch players who have made the jump to the next level to play collegiate women’s water polo.
Sarah Medina, last season’s Mesa League Player of the Year, is currently playing for UC Irvine as a walk-on. Other notable alumni who have gone on to play college water polo include Christina Allison (Siena University), Christina Eaton (UC San Diego), Ronnie Coffer (SDSU), Abby Wirsching (UC Santa Barbara) and Roxanna Magee and Cailin Lechner (both UCLA).
Coffer earned honors as the national club player of the year last season.
Several other Mustangs have continued their playing careers at the community college level, including Southwestern, San Diego Mesa and Grossmont colleges.
Cornwell earned distinction as the only goalie in San Diego County to ink her name on a national letter of intent during November’s early signing period. It is Medina’s understanding that Cornwell was one of three goalies recruited by the Trojans.
“USC has a track record of winning the NCAA championship,” Cornwell said. “I’d like to play in a national championship game and win it with my team.”
Medina said he has no doubt that Cornwell can compete at the next level.
“She has the athletic ability to play (at a high level), she’s very coachable, she’s a worthwhile project for any university,” the ORHS coach said.
Cornwell said that once she realized she wanted to play the sport beyond high school, she began the process of researching various programs and weighing them against one another.
She expressed interest in the USC program via the Internet, filling out a prospect information sheet for student-athletes. After contact was initiated, she participated in a water polo camp at USC.
“The camp was a great experience,” she said. “This is what made me decide I wanted to play at the next level.”
Medina credited Cornwell’s parents, Amy and Dan, with a great job of promoting their daughter through resume and film.
“I sought out other colleges but USC was always my number one choice,” Cornwell said. “When I found out USC was No. 1, that fit perfectly.”
Cornwell said she established three criteria for herself in the recruiting process: 1) She wanted to attend a university on the West Coast, preferably in California; 2) She wanted to attend a university with what she termed “a big college atmosphere” that had a football team; 3) She wanted to attend a university with good academics. She got all three with USC.
Making the switch from synchronized swimming to water polo did present some challenges.
“The crossovers for her were learning the game and developing her upper body strength,” Medina said. “She’s become a student of the game.”
“Both sports were team sports; I had to rely on my teammates but it was a different kind of communication,” Cornwell explained. “The biggest difference was getting used to throwing the ball, having a prop in the water.”
Added Medina: “Hard work and persistence pays off.”