Madera Tribune File Photo
Cal Lutheran junior Jessica Diaz earned All-American honors in April. She is a three-time All-American after a record-setting career at Madera in 2017.
When Jessica Diaz left Madera High School in 2017, the rest of the Central Section girls water polo coaches breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Diaz wouldn’t be around anymore to torment them. The Coyote record holder for goals scored in a season and a career took her talents to San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton and then to Cal-Lutheran College in Thousand Oaks and hasn’t stopped scoring.
This past water polo season, Diaz earned her third straight All-American honor. She was named honorable mention All-American by the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches at the end of April although the season was cut short.
She started all 12 games and was third on the team with 17 steals, second with 13 assists and scored 12 goals
“I’ve done really well and I’m having a lot of fun. It’s amazing, Diaz said. “We started season in February and we played some games, but only got one league game. The next day, after we played that game, they said the season was over and then school was canceled. It’s been a lot. It’s a good teaching moment from being able to do something. It makes you appreciate it a lot more when it’s gone.”
One thing Diaz had a knack for was to be a clutch scorer with game-tying and game-winning shots, including one to win the third place match in the CCCAA State Championship during her freshman season.
“For some reason, when it’s really important, those clutch goals happen,” she said. “High school, junior college and college is teaching me a lot. It’s unbelievable to me. When I watch the videos, I think that’s me?”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Cal Lutheran shut down its campus. Diaz’s season was over after 12 matches and she was sent home.
“My parents went and got me,” she said. “The school didn’t let anyone stay and told us to go home. I have one more year and will, hopefully, go back. It’s so nice, the weather is nice, the people are fantastic. The teachers and people around are so amazing.”
Diaz hasn’t missed a beat since leaving Madera and has excelled at every level.
“High school to junior college was a baby step,” she said. “There was a lot of stuff I didn’t know. The coaches taught me everything and set me up for junior college so it wasn’t a such big jump. When I went from community college to Cal Lutheran, it was also a small step, a nice step. I was being taught all kinds of new stuff. Things I knew, they added on. It was nice instead of high school to a four-year. I thought that would have been really hard and I wouldn’t have played much.”
Diaz is majoring in criminal justice and criminology and plans to stay at Cal Lutheran to get a masters in public policy.
“I hope to work at the Madera Sheriff’s Department as a patrol officer,” she said. “I hope to go to the academy and make my way there. I looked into the diving and water rescue. That is something of interest, especially since I love the water so much.”
In reflecting, Diaz doesn’t know where her life would have taken her without water polo. She knows it would be different, but is happy where she is now.
“The team becomes my family,” she said. “That high school group had become a family to me. Without them, things would be a lot different. They supported me the whole way and they keep in touch. Water polo has made me such a better person. It made me feel like a part of a team. That teamwork is everything and having a family like that is awesome.”
Diaz is three years removed from high school water polo and this year’s group was the last class she played with and is proud of their success, including having four members sign National Letters of Intent to play water polo or swim at a four-year university.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s been three years,” she said. “Time just flew with how much fun I have been having. The next thing you know, it will be my senior year. I have kept up with those seniors. I am so proud. It’s amazing that they get to experience all the things I get to do, the travel, the team, the competitiveness. It builds your character and it builds you to be a better person, which is incredible. I keep up because I’m curious about what they are doing. Hopefully, I get to play against Lola (Gil at Salem University) or Emily ( at Fresno Pacific). We play Fresno Pacific in tournaments.”
Earning All-American honors in college is nothing new to Diaz now. However, she didn’t even know she was an All-American after her first year at Delta.
“I had no idea,” she said. “I thought what is this. Awards and stuff is not things I expect or look for. I work hard and try my best, especially for my team. I had no idea the first time. The second time, I had an idea after the first time. At Cal Lutheran, I had no idea because my team is full of incredible players. Just to be up there with them is great. I’m this person from Madera who did this. Next year, I don’t expect it. I’m going to work as hard as I can to get it again. It’s kind of a reward for my hard work.”
Diaz hopes her success in college can help her motivate athletes at Madera to reach for their goals.
“It shows me that I can do it,” she said. “If I can do it, then other people from home can do it, too. I hope they know that it’s hard work and they can do it. It’s cool to look at and think about.”