Varsity boys’ water polo trio commits to DI schools

Last fall, the boys’ varsity water polo team dominated their season with a 26-6 record, ending with a Northern California Section (NCS) title. However, Redwood water polo does not only produce winning titles  — the program has also assembled an incredible force of Division I (D1) athletes within the 2023 class. In fact, senior captains Max Matthews, Charlie Mills and Billy Zech have all recently committed to D1 schools. This success has come from their leadership in and out of the pool.

The team’s winning record and abundance of talented athletes sparked interest from recruiters. Goalkeeper Mills, who recently committed to the University of Southern California (USC), recognizes this and attributes his success in the recruitment process partly to the competitive environment within the team. 

“[Matthews] and [Zech] are some of the best players that I play against, so I think all of us help each other when we hop in the pool and shoot at each other. It’s an iron-sharpens-iron situation there [in the pool],” Mills said.

Zech committed to the United States Naval Academy in April 2022. Zech shared a similar sentiment to Mills when describing the trio’s chemistry. However, he also highlighted the team dynamic which has enabled them to be successful and work hard  in efforts to improve. 

“Our practices are very hard in high school [and] were especially [challenging] in club [water polo] sophomore year. We were [practicing] from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., so we’ve put in the hours to [be successful]. But I also think [we accomplish so much due to] the amount of time we spend with each other and how much we like each other,” Zech said. 

This sense of ongoing dedication and drive is present within the Redwood water polo team, which will benefit Zech, Mills and Matthews in their future water polo and academic careers. 

“My coach always says that hard work beats talent. If you put in the work, you will get better,” Zech said. “There are a lot of [people who have] natural talent and [don’t] work hard to get there, and these people will never get places. But if coaches see that someone is working hard, and that they can develop into a better player, they view that as something that [is beneficial]  in water polo and school. The more hours you put into trying to learn something, the better you seem to do.” 

My coach always says that hard work beats talent. If you put in the work, you will get better.

— Billy Zech

Warming up, Zech winds up to take a shot. (Photo by Arjun Aujla)

Center defender Matthews, who committed to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in September 2022, stated that this team has helped him gain life skills over the last four years that will benefit his career as a collegiate athlete.  

“[I’ve gotten better at] learning to be a leader and teammate. I think the water polo stuff kind of comes naturally. There’s a ton of other stuff outside of the pool … [such as learning] time management, [which water polo has taught me]. If you can manage school and sports well, you never feel like you’re burning out. That’s probably the most important thing,” Matthews said.

Being a student athlete takes rigor and determination, hence why the commitment process differs from player to player. Each athlete is looking for different attributes in a school, both academically and athletically. For Matthews, the decision to commit to UCLA went relatively smoothly. 

“I was set on UCLA from the start. I’m fourth-generation, it’s an amazing school and I’m super excited … It wasn’t a hard choice,” Matthews said. 

Even though UCLA and USC are rivals, Mills shares similar sentiments to Matthews about his decision.
“I just love the people down there, and I love the school. I’ve always wanted to play [water polo] in Southern California, so all that excites me,” Mills said. 

Most commits are focused on balancing school and their sport, but for Zech, his commitment to the Navy goes beyond playing DI water polo and going to a competitive university. Zech will serve in the Naval Academy, which has been his passion since he was little. The skills he has gained from water polo will ultimately help him thrive in the Navy. He states that being a leader is vital in the Academy, since you are thrown into the position of naval officer upon graduation. 

“If you’re [used to] leading, it’s better for you later on in life, and it will help you develop as a person,” Zech said.

All of these athletes still want to continue to achieve milestones at Redwood, before they leave high school behind. 

“[This season is] one last chance to play with the guys before we all go to college. Hopefully, we can take down our rival, [Archie Williams High School]. They’ve beaten us the past couple of years, and [beating them has] been a major goal of ours,” Mills said. 

The trio hopes to leav

e an impact and see results from the hard work they have dedicated to the sport over the past four years.

“[We want to be] undefeated in the Marin County Athletic League (MCAL) and win the c

hampionship. We’ve put in a lot of effort this year, and I definitely think we can do that,” Zech said.