Story written by Michael Jorgenson, UCSB Athletics Assistant Director, Communications
Video produced by Greg Kim
The UC Santa Barbara women's water polo team began its 2019 season this past weekend, earning a couple impressive wins en route to a 4-1 record out of the gates. The hot start bodes well for a Gaucho team with championship aspirations that just three years ago took home its first ever Big West title.
Along with head coach Serela Kay, only two Gauchos remain from the historic 2016 NCAA Tournament team. Center defender Shannon Moran is one of those two players, having redshirted that year as a freshman.
While Moran isn't the type of player who is going to blow you away on the statsheet, her true value lies in her embodiment of the types of leadership qualities which could get UCSB back into the big dance this year, among them: effort, teamwork, determination, unselfishness, a positive attitude, and perhaps most importantly, patience.
"Something my coach always says is 'Trust the process,' and when you're younger in your first or second year, it's a little bit hard to think okay, what does that mean?" said Moran. "Now that I'm kind of wrapping up my college career, I understand now that the process and everything you do leading into your career as an athlete or as a student pays off in the end."
Moran's understanding of the winning culture her coach tries to instill each year is just one of the reasons why she was named one of the team's three co-captains heading into the season. It also helps that, while she was spending time growing and learning from the sideline as a freshman – filming games and helping with scouting reports – she didn't have to look hard to find a great model for success to one day replicate.
"The year we won, we had a solid group of seniors and captains, and I really looked up to them," Moran said. "It was cool to see how they played in the water and how they played with each other. I'm grateful I got to watch them and kind of learn from them and their road to the championship. I think we definitely want to emulate that this year because we're gonna win another championship."
While Moran spends much of her time being a vocal leader both inside and outside of the pool, she has also always found time to give back to the community, something her team has done every year since Kay became the team's head coach with the non-profit organization Food From The Heart. Giving back isn't just something Moran picked up once she got to Santa Barbara, though; she's been doing it for a long time.
"I was very involved in the National Charity League growing up," Moran said. "I did that with my mom and my two sisters all the way from middle school through high school. My mom always had a passion for service. That was a really special thing to get to share with her and my sisters."
During Moran's senior year of high school, her mother would unfortunately pass away. However, that would not stop her from continuing to give back and provide a positive spirit and influence wherever she went. Along with the National Charity League, she was involved in ASB for all four years of high school, working on projects and coming up with ideas to give back to the community.
"One of the projects we started as freshmen, we volunteered at local elementary schools in Oakland," she said. "During the holidays, we asked the children to send letters to Santa, and then we all went shopping as a class and bought them gifts, came to their school dressed as elves and gave them presents. That was really special."
Since coming to UCSB, Moran hasn't stopped finding new ways to contribute. Along with being a member of SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee) for four years, she has also spent time working at a recreation center in Isla Vista, applying the lessons she has learned in child development to aid the area's youth. This past summer, she even went on a trip overseas to work with kids in Thailand.
"I went to Thailand for four weeks and volunteered as an English teacher. It was really cool to be outside my comfort zone and thrown into this new situation and make lifelong relationships with these other volunteers that I met," said Moran. "It was so much fun to serve these Thai children. They barely knew any English but they still played and sang and sung and danced just like all the kids here in America. It was definitely fun. I wish school was always like that."
Moran hopes to continue giving back by one day working in education, but for now, her energies are focused on getting her team back into the NCAA Tournament. She likely won't be leading the team in goals this season, but she will be using the lessons she's learned in community service to lead her team in the best way possible.
"I think that my experiences as a leader with my program this summer, volunteering, and even in my job working with children in IV, it definitely helps build leadership skills," she said. "The classroom setting is very similar to the team setting. Being a teacher to 25 Thai students very much translates into being one of three captains on a 20-person team, so I think it's really helped me build my leadership skills and my confidence in my leadership and teamwork abilities."
Moran and the Gauchos will continue building towards their goals of another championship when they get back in the pool for their next competition at the ASU Invitational from Feb. 1-3.