By Rick Assad
Nancy Baylor is the Burroughs High girls’ water polo career scoring leader and the single season top scorer with 135 goals and 75 steals.
How Baylor, a senior, came to this point is pure happenstance because she actually stumbled into the sport.
“I started playing by accident at nine years old. I went to sign up for the Recreation League swim team and there weren’t any spots left, so the person at the front desk suggested that I try water polo because there were so many spots left on the team,” she said. “I went to one practice and fell in love with it. For some reason, I completely connected with the sport immediately. Because I loved it so much, I wanted to work hard and get better and better. I’m so grateful I found this sport by chance.”
Baylor, who has been admitted to the University of Indiana where she will be on the women’s water polo team, enjoys being in the water and giving it her best.
“I love the game. It’s so exciting and aggressive,” she noted. “And I absolutely love being part of a competitive environment where we all have this common goal of playing hard and winning.”
Being confident and strong are what Baylor, who was named Burroughs’ Most Valuable Player two years running and the Pacific League Player of the Year in 2022 and 2023, has to offer any coach.
“I definitely think confidence is one of the most important aspects of the game,” she said. “I believe it’s very crucial to be able to trust yourself during tough moments. It’s something I’m always working on.”
Longtime Burroughs head coach Jacob Cook saw her from the very beginning.
“Nancy has always been an incredibly driven and talented athlete,” he said. “She has put in an incredible amount of work to get to this point and has remained humble through all of the amazing accomplishments that she has already achieved.”
Cook is melancholy to see Baylor, who played four years on the varsity graduate, but knows she will have an opportunity to accomplish incredible things.
“She has been the ideal athlete every coach wants in an athlete, and I expect her to continue to do great things in her time after high school,” he said.
Getting ready to step into the water always brings the unknown but Baylor doesn’t mind.
“To prepare for a match, personally, I like to listen to music before I get on deck, and really clear my mind of everything going on outside. I like to make myself as mentally present as possible,” she said. “I like to spend time with my team before getting in the water, and I like talking to my coaches before we play, like having team meetings to get a good idea of what we want to work on and accomplish in the game, for example plays, 6 on 5s, defense strategies.”
It’s always about the love of the game for Baylor, who played club water polo at Rose Bowl Aquatics and made the Cadet National Team in 2021 and the Youth Futures National Team in 2022 and her club team placed fourth in the country at the Junior Olympics.
“I love the game. It’s so exciting and aggressive and I absolutely love being part of a competitive environment where we all have this common goal of playing hard and winning,” she said.
But it’s the unknown that keeps Baylor glued to the game, even if it’s sometimes scary.
“I have a lot of practice losing, especially after playing so long on so many different teams,” she said. “You just have to pick up and go to the next game. During tough games, the best thing to do is adjust, and never quit, really staying in the game until the end. I’ve definitely learned the most valuable lessons from the games I’ve lost. There’s always a takeaway somewhere.”
Even though games count for one win and one loss, playing the better teams always seems to help bring out the best in Baylor.
“Absolutely, I always have my best games against the best competition,” she said. “It really pushes me to be creative and challenges me to adapt to different situations in an exciting way.”
For Baylor, it’s about being a collaborative effort.
“With every single coach I’ve had, it’s shaped my game. I’ve learned very valuable lessons to take with me through every experience so it’s hard to pick one,” she said. “This past summer I developed a better understanding of the game as a defender and that stands out to me. I worked with my club coach and also an alumni player. Then high school seasons really helps me become more confident and puts me into a leadership role where I have to function well as an attacker. Martin [Ortega Jennison] and Jake [Cook], my high school coaches, have really pushed me to believe in myself and they have been there during tough moments with a lot of moral support.”
Ortega Jennison realizes Baylor’s unique talent, skill and dedication.
“I’ve had the pleasure of coaching Nancy for the past four and a half years. She is an amazing and hard worker and extremely talented athlete,” Ortega Jennison said. “What stands out to me the most is through her hard work. She has shown that she can push those around her while uplifting teammates and peers around her. She can lead and elevate not only how they play in the water but how she can bring a team together.”
Ortega Jennison went on: “She has found a balance between what she can control in the water and outside. While being her coach at Burroughs, I’ve also had the pleasure to see her play and coach her through her club seasons,” he said. “She is by far one of the most talented, humble and hard-working young women I’ve ever had the pleasure and privilege to coach in the past nine and a half years I’ve been with Burroughs.”
Like Cook, Ortega Jennison is sad and yet happy that Baylor will continue her water polo career in the Big Ten Conference.
“It’s very bittersweet to see her leave and she will be greatly missed not only by me but all of her teammates at Burroughs because she has paved a way for all of her teammates and friends to show them that anything is possible,” he said.
Being a pool leader is something that Baylor can transition to fairly easily.
“When I have to be a leader, I can step into that role, but I definitely see myself in a more supportive role on the team making sure we’re all connected and on the same page,” she said. “I think no matter what team you’re on, it’s so important to be there for one another and function as a unit.
What’s Baylor’s mindset when she plays in bigger matches?
“I’m still learning the best ways to approach crucial games,” she pointed out. “I like to give myself confidence before situations like these, and just be strong for my team.”
Though Baylor hasn’t yet played for the Hoosiers, she’s definitely looking forward to it.
“My goal in college is to meet the next level of competition and excel,” she said. “During this upcoming club season, I’m really going to work hard to get stronger and prepare myself for what comes next.”
That sounds like a plan.