Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera Coyotes water polo standout Robby Niino, and his parents Kathy and Eric, are all smiles after he signed his National Letter of Intent to William and Jefferson University, a Div. III school in Pennsylvania.
Madera Coyotes water polo standout Robby Niino signed his National Letter of Intent to attend William and Jefferson University in front of family and friends in the Madera High School cafeteria before family and friends.
In addition to earning an academic scholarship, Niino will also get a chance to play water polo with the NCAA Div. III Presidents at the Washington, Pennsylvania school.
“One day, I got an email from the coach,” he said. “They said they were interested. I started to email the coach back and forth in October. In November, I went on a trip back East to there. The reason why it took so long was I was indecisive on where I wanted to go. I didn’t know if I wanted to stay local, go to a UC or play water polo. I thought about it and decided to go.”
“It’s awesome to get one of my kids signed,” Madera boys water polo coach Rick Martines said. “It’s a really cool thing. I hope it gets out here. Our kids come in without a vast knowledge of the sport, but we’re always top three in league.”
Like he does with his academics, Niino took some time to decide where he was going to take the next step.
“I put a lot of thought into it,” he said. “I thought, ‘Do I really want to compete at a higher level and take the next step?’ The answer to that was yes. It was within me and I wanted to keep up with that competitiveness.”
However, thoughts of playing in college didn’t occur to Niino until he started to stand out his senior year.
“He did mature and did fall into line,” Martines said. “He had a great year and was able to work on being a team player. It was a huge gain for us. It’s always hard for us in my program, when we mature into that critical thinking stage that boys turn into, it’s time to go. With the junior high program, we’re getting in kids that know the background and understand what the game is. It sucks to have him leave, but I’m happy he’s going. He told me that he wasn’t going to be playing in college. During swim season, his ethics bogged down a little. When he got the phone call that he was going to sign, he understands now where he needs to be. I believe he will be successful.”
However, Martines wasn’t too sure Niino would become the leader he became when he first started.
“Robby is kind of like the class clown,” Martines said. “It took him a while to get into the maturity it takes to be a team captain. The last couple of years, after his brother graduated, he started to fill that. I wish it would have happen a little faster than it did. He is the nucleus of that team and now he’s gone. Him leaving us, there’s some big shoes to be filled. The underclassmen have seen what Robby has done and I think we’ll be okay. It’s always sad to see one leave.”
However, once Niino worked to become a team leader, his teammates all gravitated towards him.
“I tried to build a family atmosphere,” he said. “The bond between us is even stronger than the game. Once the game is over, you have to see each other. They are some of my closest friends and will be for the rest of my life. My sophomore year, Austin Wade was a big inspiration, leadership wise. Last year, it was a struggle in the pool. This year, I stepped up. I thought someone has to take charge and no one was doing it. I just tried to fill those shoes. I guess it fit because it worked. The guys went along.”
Niino had to negotiate with the William and Jefferson coach to get the price more affordable for his parents. Carrying a 4.0 grade point average didn’t hurt.
“For them, if they could get the price down to what a UC is, that was my goal,” he said. “They were able to do that. It’s a benefit to play water polo in college. The grades are what pushed me over. They said with my grades, they were able to give me that extra scholarship.”
However, with Niino’s family background, academic success is in the family, although Niino said his parents tried not to pressure him.
“I feel that pressure to succeed, but my parents did their best to try to limit that,” he said. “Having a brother in military academy and a sister at UCLA medical school is tough. It’s a new experience that I’m ready for. That was a big, decisive factor because I’ll be so far away from friends and family.”
William and Jefferson is just 30 minutes outside of Pittsburgh and Niino is ready to head east, although he’s not sure about the East Coast winters.
“I’m going to have to go shopping for winter clothes,” he said. “When I went to visit, it was 9 degrees. The pools are all indoor. My parents will tell you they are excited. After a year, they will probably be over it.”
Niino plans on majoring in chemistry with the goal of becoming a science teacher.
“I was thinking about it,” he said. “I didn’t know about being a biology or chemistry teacher. I love both subjects a lot. It came down to experiments. Chemistry is going to be more fun for me to teach, I think.”