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Lopez-Ibarra happy to stay close to home at FPU

For The Madera Tribune

Madera’s Emily Lopez-Ibarra will continue to play water polo next season with the Fresno Pacific Sunbirds.


When it came time to choose a college to attend, Madera Coyotes water polo player and swimmer Emily Lopez-Ibarra made the easy choice — Fresno Pacific University.

“I loved being close to home,” she said. “That’s why I chose Fresno Pacific. It was close to home and close to my friends here.”

Lopez-Ibarra was ecstatic that the school she really wanted to go to was also interested in her, as well.

“I emailed a bunch of colleges during water polo season,” she said. “Fresno Pacific was one that emailed me back. They went to one of my games and we arranged a visit. It was really nice. I really like their team. The school is small, but not too small. It’s the right size for me.”

Lopez-Ibarra is part of a history-making aquatics team. Not only did they win two County/Metro Athletic Conference championships in water polo and two Div. II Central Section championships, but three other teammates are going to the next level — Tara Goertzen (Idaho) for swimming and Lola Gill (Salem) and Bailey Hansen (Fresno State) — for athletics.

“That is really cool,” Lopez-Ibarra said. “We have been there for a while. It’s cool that we’re all moving to the next level. We’re all going to different places.”

“It’s an incredible feeling,” said Erik Baymiller, Madera Coyotes girls water polo and swimming coach. “There’s a lot of pride. I’m just super proud of all of them. It wasn’t unexpected. I knew during their sophomore year these girls were good enough to play enough at the next level. They did an excellent job. They are dual Valley champions and dual league championships. Those are championships we have never had at Madera. It was truly a dynasty.”

In addition to Fresno Pacific, Lopez-Ibarra received interest from University of Pacific, Fresno State and Azusa Pacific.

“Fresno Pacific was the first school that really offered me anything,” she said. “I didn’t hear much from the other schools. It was a relatively easy decision. In the end, even if the other colleges would have contacted me, I would have chosen Fresno Pacific because of how close it was to home. I’m happy with the choice I made by going to Fresno Pacific.”

Lopez-Ibarra plans to major in biology and later go to dental school. She originally signed her National Letter of Intent at the beginning of the year.

She has had trouble keeping herself busy during the pandemic, but is looking forward to college.

“It’s been difficult,” she said. “I’m not going to lie. It’s been tough. I’m used to doing something, whether it’s season or it’s club. No being able to do anything has been hard. I’m hanging in there.”

Lopez-Ibarra said the her awareness in the pool is her biggest attribute in water polo.

“I know what’s going on in the pool and know how to react with it,” she said. “I feel that’s what they liked. If I work hard enough, I think I have a really strong shot at starting. I would really have to work for it.”

“She is incredible,” Baymiller said. ”She went through a lot of hardships through high school. It didn’t stop her. Her having amazing grades and being an amazing player helped her parents out a lot. To me, that is incredible.”

Her best moment in the pool was the first time the Coyotes beat Sanger in water polo.

“For the four years, that was the first time we beat them. They are our rivals. It was a really tough game, but we won.”

However, she is upset that her Coyotes’ team didn’t get the opportunity to swim for a third straight Div. II championship.

“I wish we could have swam for the three-peat,” she said. “That (championship team) was so nice. I love that team.”

Being close to home was important to Lopez-Ibarra. Even if she had the chance to venture away to college, she said she would still choose to be close to home.

“A big factor to staying close to home was that I get homesick really easy so I didn’t want to go far,” she said. “Another thing is they are a Div. II and they are a good team. I don’t want to go far. It’s nice to be apart, but just for a little bit. I don’t like the distance. I like having the option of coming back and visiting my friends and family.”


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