In the Midwest, kids typically begin their sports careers on the field with soccer or Little League Baseball. But for Michigan water polo’s junior attacker Kiki Golden, recently named the CWPA Western Division’s Player of the Year, she began her sports career in the pool.
Golden grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. She started playing water polo in the sixth grade, thanks to some inspiration from her older brother, Matt, who also played.
“I thought it was better than swimming,” Golden said.
Her high school career began at Monte Vista High School, just north of Sacramento. There, she played on the varsity team, while she stayed fit with her local club team, Diablo Water Polo, in the offseason.
Michigan coach Matt Anderson said he recruited Golden because of her club team. He was thoroughly impressed the first time he watched her play.
“There were a few other highly recruitable athletes on her team,” Anderson said. “(But) I saw what Kiki could do, and (opposing recruiters) focused on the other players on her team. Immediately, I set my sights on going after her.”
It was a good decision by Anderson, as he acquired an under-the-radar recruit on a stellar club team. Even more impressive was the San Francisco native’s transition from California to Michigan.
Many people wonder how anyone could sacrifice the sunny, blue skies for a state filled with snow and unpredictable weather. For Golden though, the choice was a matter of change.
“A lot of my friends from my club team went to (University of California at) Berkeley, then I came on a trip (to Michigan),” she said.
“I came here, fell in love with the place and wanted to go somewhere different (than my friends).”
The transition from a warm climate to brisk Michigan weather was not the only change in Golden’s forecast as she arrived in Ann Arbor her freshman year.
“I’d say that freshman year, I wasn’t quite sure what everything was all about,” Golden said. “It was difficult to balance school and water polo.”
As many college students have trouble transitioning from high school to life at a large university, Golden learned from her mistakes, and her teammates and coaching staff took note.
“Her first year and a half, it was hard because she tried to get by on just talent,” Anderson said. “She has matured through her junior year. She focuses on the mental and emotional aspects as well as talent.”
Golden has transformed from a young college kid to the Player of the Year and a leader of the water polo team.
“She is definitely someone that everybody looks to in order to set the pace of the game,” Anderson said. “Players look to her a little too much sometimes.”
Her success this year has led the team to a third-place finish at the Eastern Championships, as Michigan narrowly missed out on an NCAA Tournament berth.
But Golden would never take full credit for the exceptional season that the Wolverines put together.
“(The Player of the year Award) showed me how far I’ve come since freshman year,” she said. “(Though) I never really think about those things.”
Rather, Golden is looking forward to next season, specifically another shot at the Eastern Championships.
“I think we’ve developed more as a team,” she said. “We’ll be losing fewer seniors, and I’m excited to see how far we can go next year and how much we can improve.”