Derunes overcomes height disadvantage, creates scoring opportunities with speed


Before this year, Julia Derunes (10) only served as a bench player in water polo. On top of that, she was 5’1”, and said she lacked the aggressiveness needed to become a skilled player.

Now, in her second year on the team, Derunes is a starter and occupies a key role as part of the team during games as a driver on the side to attack the cage. She discovered the sport at age 7 after discovering she didn’t work well in other team sports.

“My dad wanted me to play a team sport, so we tried soccer and basketball but it didn’t work out,” Derunes said. “Basically in every other sport you kinda have to be tall in order to be really successful.”

While trying different sports, Derunes discovered her attraction to water polo.

“I love the water and I love swimming and I just really liked it,” she said.

At first, Derunes struggled with the sport and could barely swim up and down the pool or throw the ball. As she continued playing, she was able to swim faster after intensive self-training, two years of experience on the swim team, as well as experience as a goalie for a year, which she said strengthened her arm, allowing her to throw the ball further.

However, she still had to overcome her greatest obstacle: her size.

“I had to work through [my size] and improve my strength, speed, and everything else in order to get up to other people’s level,” she said.

In many instances she encounters bigger players who have longer arms and more strength to grab her suit and kick her, preventing her from reaching the ball.

However, over the years, Derunes has developed methods to work with her size and use it as an advantage in games.

“I kind of just came up with my own tricks where I don’t let them grab my suit first,” Derunes said. “Usually, when they are bigger, they can kick me a lot easier and I’ll just hold their leg down so they won’t kick me.”

Although she lacks in size, Derunes considers herself to be a fast swimmer, which allows her to quickly switch between defense and counterattack.

Over time, Derunes has adopted a more aggressive style of play. For years her parents and coaches encouraged and reminded her to play more assertively. However, it was only after a moment in one of her games that she was able to play more aggressively.

“At one point during one game, I just got really mad,” she said. “I started playing a lot more aggressively and I really liked it so now it’s just a typical thing during the games.”

When Derunes changed the way she played to be more aggressive, she adopted a different mindset for the movements and methods she used when playing during games.

“You have to be more aggressive in your movements, not just going through the motions,” Derunes said. “You actually have to be physical and you can’t be afraid of hurting someone.”

With the ability to play more aggressively, Derunes was able to enjoy games more since she could match up against stronger players. After playing water polo for eight years, Derunes has not only learned to be more aggressive and faster, but also to accept feedback and listen to different points of view.

“If your coach tells you to throw it to someone and you can’t really see that they’re open but if your coach sees that they are open, you can do things instead of just keeping the ball,” she said. “They have a different point of view on the pool, so it helps accepting that [feedback].”

Even though Derunes had to encounter an overcome many different struggles while playing water polo,  she never doubted that water polo was the sport for her.