HANFORD — Surrounded by his family and friends, Hanford’s Matthew Ross signed his National Letter of Intent to play water polo at Fresno Pacific University on Friday.
“I’m super excited, a bunch of my friends are going to FPU so I get to stay with them and it feels good to know that I can keep playing water polo because it’s been my favorite sport since I was little,” Ross said. “Knowing that I can continue playing next year and at the next level is really exciting.”
The senior’s signing ceremony took place at the Hanford High School conference room with plenty of pizza and cupcakes for the dozens in attendance. Hanford coach Anthony Souza and athletic director Beau Hill both spoke positively about the type of player and student Ross has been for the Bullpups.
“From the get-go he’s been a workhorse and he’s always been a team leader,” Souza said. “I knew he was going to go somewhere, we just didn’t know where, but his work ethic and his determination in the pool and out of the pool, the kid never stops working hard.”
As he inked his letter, one could only think about the goals Ross has accomplished in the water.
He helped lead the boys water polo team to a CIF Central Section Division III championship this past fall in a dramatic 22-21 overtime victory against Edison. Ross scored a career-high 13 goals in the game as the Bullpups claimed their first Central Section title in water polo since 2009.
He also set a new school record for most goals in a season. The previous record of 117 goals, set by Garth Verdegaal in 2015, was absolutely smashed by Ross as he finished with 197 goals. The two played together during that season, Ross as a freshman and Verdegaal as a senior, which Ross credited him with helping break the record this past season.
“I played with Garth my freshman year so I got to see him do all those great things that he did when he broke the record Being able to break his record, it’s a great feeling because I got to see what hit takes, so he kind of mentored me into being able to do it this year.”
Ross set the new record on Sept. 25, 2018 against Redwood in a 30-15 loss. He ended that game with five goals to give him a total of 119 at the time and he wasn’t nearly done as he continued to add 78 more over the final 10 games.
Ross began playing water polo when he was nine years old and he described it back then as simply “trying not to drown.” But progressively he continued to get better and fall more in love with the sport until he realized it could be a possibility in college.
“Around 12 I was like, ‘I’d really like to play water polo in college,’” Ross said. “You go to these tournaments down south and you see all these great players and you see them getting scholarships and you never think it’s going to happen to you.”
Ross is now one of those great players and he’ll be attending Fresno Pacific University on an athletic scholarship. He looked at other schools like California Lutheran University and California Baptist University, but ultimately settled on staying local.
“I’ve seen them play for years and it’s always been my No. 1 option,” Ross said. “My family’s still going to live here … so having that sense of home still when you’re going to college I think is good.”
Now officially a Sunbird, Ross said he’s looking forward to the competition at the next level and a chance to continue to get better at the sport he loves.
“In high school everybody wants to win, but then at that next level everybody’s dying to win,” Ross said. “It’s going to be fun being able to play with people and get better with people that are also trying to get better.”