Rick’s Sports Corner: Ava Tomlinson, Talented At Water Polo

Burroughs junior has made her mark in the water and in the classroom.


By Rick Assad

It didn’t take too long for Burroughs High senior-to-be water polo standout Ava Tomlinson to figure out what to do in the swimming pool.

“I think I have been successful in water polo by being very open to making mistakes and asking questions. My coaches [Jacob Cook and Martin Ortega Jennison], parents [Mike and Joanna], and teammates have all helped me succeed and pushed me to get better as well,” she said after coming off a Most Valuable Player season as voted by her team and helping the Bears finish 11-13 and 7-3 in the Pacific League. “Being able to take criticism and ask as many questions as I could during practice helped me mentally understand the game faster and deeper.”

Tomlinson, who was named Rookie of the Year as voted by her teammates and has tallied 95 goals across three seasons, went on: “At practice, I have fun trying new things and making mistakes I can learn from,” she added. “Having fun laughing at myself during practice when I do something totally wrong but still being able to take my mistakes seriously has helped me to find the motivation and confidence to ask more questions and try new things, ultimately helping me become successful.”

Knowing how to prepare also helped Tomlinson, who has 55 assists, 80 steals and 15 blocks on her resume so far.

“Before games, I try to maintain a clear headspace. When I first started playing, I would get so nervous, but as I grew as a player, I became less nervous and more confident in myself,” she admitted. “Before important games, I am definitely more nervous and just try to clear my own head. Sometimes I watch game film or just go over plays with my coach to try to prepare myself as best as possible.”

Tomlinson’s journey to being a three-year starter didn’t get off to a positive start.

Ava Tomlinson just concluded her junior season for the Bears and wants to finish her career on a high note. (Photo courtesy Morgan Wright)

“As a kid, I was a swimmer. My parents and my swim coach tried to convince me to go water polo for years, but I refused because I was scared to try it and worried, I would embarrass myself,” she said. “When I was getting ready for high school and faced with the decision to either try water polo or join PE and have to run the mile, I very quickly chose water polo. The first couple of days were rough, but I got better with more training and now I love it.”

Tomlinson, a solid student who has taken a number of Advanced Placement classes and receives mostly A’s, was also tabbed USA Water Polo Academic All-American, works hard and is in sync with her teammates, which makes her job much easier.

“Of the many plays we ran, I was the main shooter, but it was more because my teammates were able to do the hard work and open up opportunities for me,” she pointed out. “Plays were never designed really for one person but made more for the way the team played as a whole. A goal I set for myself before the season was to be more confident in shooting and less hesitant. Trying to achieve my goals, I ended up taking a lot more shots this season than last season.”

Because of her play in the pool and out of the water, Tomlisnon, who led the team with 65 goals as a sophomore when the team went 14-9 and 8-1 in league, was voted captain.

“In the pool, I would say I am a pretty good leader. Being captain, I take pride in being someone that my teammates can look to as a role model and a friend. I also think I am a very good communicator,” she said. “During games, I tend to talk to my teammates a lot because I think being able to communicate with your team is what can make or break a team. I also love being able to just have fun and joke around with my teammates.” 

Eating light or not eating at all is something Tomlinson does on game days.

“On the days of a match, I eat almost nothing. If I eat too much before a game, I feel really slow and sick. Usually, I just have a small breakfast and eat nothing at school or before the game,” she noted. “If I am going to eat something during the day, I usually just eat fruit or a small açaí bowl. The nerves before a game usually make me nauseous a little bit, so I usually wait to eat until after the game, when refreshing foods sound super good.”

Several years ago, Tomlinson was engaged in another fun activity.

Ava Tomlinson knows how to get the ball in the goal as evidenced by her 95 goals over three seasons. (Photo courtesy Morgan Wright)

“In middle school, I really enjoyed being a cheerleader. If I could, I think I would have really enjoyed continuing to cheerlead at Burroughs,” she said. “I loved the environment of supporting people and I loved the stunting aspect of cheer. But if given the choice to cheer or play water polo, I would play polo anyway.”

Regardless of the opponent, a match counts as one game. Still, it seemed some were looked upon more closely.

“Some matches were definitely more stressful than others. Especially in our big league matches like Crescenta Valley and Arcadia, I was definitely feeling more pressure than usual,” Tomlinson said. “The Burbank-Burroughs games always have more anticipation attached to it, just because both teams really want to win. Being a competitive person by nature, I always feel the need to win, but in defining games I definitely feel the pressure a little bit more.”

Games and contests by definition can be nerve-wracking and so is winning and losing.

“While losing can be quite emotional, I try to remember that everything is a learning lesson. My mom always records the games, so when I go home I always watch the game we just played to see myself from a new perspective,” Tomlinson said. “I think learning from my mistakes helps me to get past the hard losses. I am often quite hard on myself, and watching the game and just being able to enjoy watching the game helps me find the fun in water polo.” 

Tomlinson has one more season on the water polo team and hopes to exit in style.

“I think I am most proud of how much I have succeeded in water polo. As a kid, I was mediocre at most sports, but in water polo I was really able to become a good player,” she said. “I think also finding passion for a sport was something I am proud of. Being able to look back and see how far I’ve come as a water polo player, a leader, and a teammate makes me really proud of myself. I also love to see how my teammates are growing as water polo players and as people.”