The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
There is something completely shocking about Miya Oto.
Twenty-seven times the College of San Mateo superstar has jumped into the pool for the Bulldog women’s water polo team this season. And 27 times, the opposition has been left wondering the same thing: How does one fit so much electrifying talent into such a small frame?
Heck, even Randy Wright, her own head coach, is often times left scratching his head.
“Does she look like a gifted athlete?” Wright said, shaking his head. “If you took all of your First Team All-Americans and put them all in and row and said, ‘Who’s the one that doesn’t fit?’ It’s Miya. Clearly, she does not personify what people would believe in.”
But not believing in Oto’s lethal ability is everyone’s first mistake.
And their most foolish.
Oto stands 5-4 and by most “expert” accounts, she’s a half-foot short of the typical elite-level water polo player. Yet Oto will lead the Bulldogs into their first ever appearance in the Northern California playoffs as the state’s top field player, at least statistically speaking. She’s also now the most decorated female aquatic athlete in College of San Mateo history as a three-time All-American swimmer, a Northern California First Teamer and an All-American water polo player.
So, what’s the secret?
Well, it’s simple: You don’t make yourself fit the mold. You create a new one. Or in the words of Wright: “That kind of athlete is just cut from a different cloth.”
Oto said it’s slightly more simple than that.
“Hard work pays off,” she said in unassuming fashion. “I try my best and it’s good that it does pay off. But it’s not like I shoot for the medals and all that. I just want to make myself proud and my coach.”
“Miya is nothing but hard work,” Wright said. “She gets the job done. But it’s all about hard work. It is a Division I attitude where, ‘I’m going to die before I quit.’ And there is no quit in the Otos — her included. A lot of people, they kind of shut down mentally and no longer are they ‘that’ player. Physically, if the going gets rough — well, if it does, Miya is in the pool. She’s working. She’s training. She trains harder, trains longer and her success is a direct result of her hard work.”
Oto’s countless hours in the pool translated to a 19-win season for the Bulldogs. A glance at the statistical leaders in the state has her first overall with a combined 56 goals, 58 assists and 141 steals. And most importantly, her speed is the driving force behind CSM’s historic run to Nor Cals which begin Friday at Diablo Valley College with a game against No. 3 American River. CSM is the No. 6 seed.
“The ability to execute is founded on the work before that execution happens,” Wright said. “So I can’t just expect to pick up a ball, shoot and score. One thing that is great about Miya is she doesn’t necessarily have to score to be that All-American. She is incredible with the ball. She is electric. The moves she has in the water … are something you just don’t see. Her quickness, her strength-to-size ratio, and what she can do in open water, in tight spaces is just phenomenal.”
And it wasn’t just her direct offensive efforts in 2012. Wright said Oto gave defenses fits. In fact, her assignment for almost every game was to find a way to get the other team’s best player excluded — and one by one, almost like clockwork, Oto was able to accomplish Wright’s wishes.
Still, that awesomeness on both sides of the ball doesn’t happen by accident. Oto’s work ethic is darn-near legendary at CSM. It’s something she said she’s had for as long as she can remember.
“I think it comes directly from my parents,” Oto said. “They taught me that way — you don’t do otherwise. If you’re doing something, you’re doing it 110 percent. That’s the way it is.”
“If you’re a great athlete, you have to have great support,” Wright said. “The support was already there before we could establish a relationship. For me, it makes it real easy. I’m just a facilitator of that great support team. But that is your elite athlete. Someone who doesn’t need to be told what to do but has the drive to do it themselves.”
Her team is the pool really appreciates her efforts. And it during the most crucial parts of the season, where every game was a playoff-level game for the Bulldogs, that Oto shined the brightest.
“Individually, I think we’ve all have improved so much,” Oto said. “Talking to some of the girls, we were saying even if we didn’t accomplish our team goals at the end, by the end of the season we all improved so much and we got a lot out of the season. We’re all super excited that we made history and we’re going to Nor Cals.
“I didn’t want to let my team down,” Oto said. “Personally, I had trouble putting the ball in the cage, but that’s not going to stop me from shooting either. I have to keep playing the way I do. I did feel more pressure, but I think everyone did. I think everyone wanted to make each other proud and look at your teammates and know we did everything for them. Once it came down to game time, we knew every opportunity was so important. Finding the back of the net was crucial in those games. We just knew it was time to go.”
“There is no team out there who has the 5-foot-4 girl that I have in the state of California,” Wright said. “A lot of times your superstar swimmer is kind of weird in the water polo world. She can’t translate well. But she’s a superstar swimmer that is a superstar water polo player.”
And there is no question about that.