Defending the goal for her team as she does every Wednesday, freshman goaltender Natalie Wassall was not planning on facing a serious head injury. As the women’s water polo team handles a forfeited season, she contemplates her future as a student-athlete in a sport that makes no promise of being gentle.
In a game against Long Beach City College, Wassall was hit in the head twice with a water polo ball thrown by an opposing player. The result of which was later confirmed, by the athletic trainer, to be a concussion.
“This girl was like two feet in front of me. She shot the ball straight at my face. It wasn’t an accident,” said Wassall. “It was on purpose. She already made 5 or 6 shots by herself. She had no problem shooting. The goal was wide open, so she could have easily made the goal, but she shot at my face.”
Rough gameplay is frequent in water polo and this particular incident was not out of the ordinary. Wassall stayed in goal following the hits without experiencing any serious pain throughout the rest of the game.
“Immediately following the incidents, she showed no symptoms and did not indicate to me or any of the coaches that she was hurt,” said head coach Terry Stoddard.
It is common with a concussion for an individual to experience symptoms much later, following an incident.
“In the car ride back I had a headache, and then again at home, so my mom told me I had to go to the athletic trainer,” said Wassall. “They told me to follow a pen [with my eyes] but [they] were darting everywhere.”
PCC athletic trainer Patty Bellali will monitor Wassall’s condition and work with the training department to help her recover.
“We have a concussion protocol that we go through and there are steps. It’s required by the state of California to have a concussion protocol in order to have a team,” said Stoddard. “There’s no time limit on concussion protocol. We have an amazing athletic trainer/sports medicine program here, so she’s entered into that process and she’ll be monitored on a daily basis.”
Water polo requires seven players on each team to compete in games. With only seven players on the PCC Women’s Water Polo Team roster, Natalie must play in order to keep them from forfeiting.
“I don’t know how this concussion is going to affect me. I don’t know if I will return,” said Wassall. “I want to but my parents will probably push me not to. My mom says it’s too tough of a game.”
The team continues to practice every day, training to improve their conditioning, in anticipation of becoming a cohesive unit once again.
“I think if she returns, she would be one of the best goalies in our conference,” said assistant coach Katia Montoya. “If not the best.”