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Navajo Student Leads Water Polo Team to Victory

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Gurpuran Singh’s nickname says it all.

Singh, also known as “Guppy,” helped lead the Foothill Community College women’s water polo team to its first title as Northern California champions in November.

“It’s an appropriate nickname,” Coach Jeff Bissell said. “Without Guppy’s play during that weekend, I know for a fact that we probably wouldn’t have won.”

The Lady Owls later took third in state in the California Community College Athletic Association.

Singh, who is Navajo and Punjabi Indian, started swimming five years ago when her mom signed her up for a summer league. She switched to water polo after getting tired of swimming laps, eventually competing with her high school team during the fall and spring seasons and the Stanford Girls Water Polo Team in the off-seasons. The 19-year-old hopes to continue playing as she pursues an education in medicine.

“I want to be a doctor who focuses on sports—sports medicine,” she said. “No goal is unattainable if you really think about it and work toward it.”

Much of what Singh learned about life she got from water polo, she said.

“There are a lot of things that I have sacrificed throughout high school and college, just for the sport,” she said, citing early-morning practices and year-round cross-training. “It’s a lot of work, but it has its benefits.”

When she’s not scrimmaging with her team, Singh is doing individual weight-training, conditioning, cardio and stretching. Her dedication is paying off, she said.

She started on the junior varsity team at Notre Dame High School, in Sherman Oaks, California. She earned the title of Most Valuable Player during both her junior and senior years.

After high school, she played the fall 2011 season of water polo for San Jose State University.

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Bissell, who tried to recruit Singh while she was still in high school, noticed she wasn’t on the roster for the spring season at San Jose State. He tried again to recruit her. Singh scrimmaged with the Foothill team over the summer and transferred to the community college in the fall.

“She was a skilled athlete, she had a great presence in the water,” Bissell said of Singh. “You have to get seven girls in the water and the players on the bench all buying into the same goals on the team and all working together to reach those goals. Guppy does a really good job of being that girl.”

The team finished the fall season with 25 wins and five losses. The team was undefeated in the northern championships, Bissell said, and won the Northern California title in a game with six overtimes. Singh, a utility player, scored two points, had two assists and two steals. She scored 58 points during the season.

Bissell wants to see Singh continue with the sport throughout her college career.

“Hopefully she’ll come back next year and have an even better year,” he said. “Hopefully she sticks with it, gets the grades and passes the classes to transfer on and hopefully play at the four-year level. I know she’s talented enough.”

Singh is a minority in the sport, which has European origins. Her role model is Brenda Villa, a Hispanic player for the U.S. National and Olympic water polo teams.

“There are very few Native Americans in this sport,” Singh said. “I don’t know of any other Native Americans who play water polo. I don’t know of any other (East) Indian water polo athletes. It’s mostly white athletes, a very European sport.”

Although Singh started water polo as a hobby, she has turned it into a lifestyle: one that reflects her nickname and her desire for a physically demanding sport.

“It’s not really like any other sport,” she said, noting comparisons to many different sports, including soccer, basketball and rugby.

“It’s physical in the sense of rugby,” she said. “There are no pads, and the only thing separating the players is a bathing suit and a swim cap.”

The Foothill Community College women's water polo team.