Print Friendly, PDF & Email

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Ella Abbott, a freshman on the University of Michigan water polo team, thought that Canham Natatorium, Michigan’s home pool, was one of the last places she might end up. She comes from a family of athletes who played land sports –baseball, basketball and volleyball — and somehow ended up in the water.

When Abbott was younger, her mother signed her up for a swim team because that’s what the other parents were doing.

“I hated it with a passion,” Abbott explained. “I cried during practice.”

That hatred slowly faded once Abbott took inventory of her surroundings. She enjoyed being outside and relished being with friends. When she was eight years old, her swim coach started a water polo team and she’s been playing ever since.

Fast forward to high school. Abbott, a Corona Del Mar, California, native and three-time USA Water Polo All-Academic, was looking for a place to continue her academic and water polo career. She had seen her older sister, Maddy, a former Michigan volleyball player, go through the recruiting process and end up at Michigan.

“In my mind, I thought, ‘I’m going to go do my own thing,'” Abbott said. “‘I’m not going to go to Michigan.’ Then, I came on a junior day here and I was sold. You can’t not love it here.”

Abbott credits water polo head coach Dr. Marcelo Leonardi for helping her make her decision. She said that his communication throughout the recruiting process was invaluable, and that he even checked in about life in general, wanting to make sure that things were going well outside of water polo.


Ella (right) and her sister, Maddy, at the Big House

“When he checked in to ask me how I was doing, I knew that he cared,” Abbot explained. “That was a big factor in me coming to play here. I wanted more than just a coach; I wanted someone I could have a great relationship with. I knew he was that person from the start who I could build that relationship with.”

Since coming to campus, Abbott has turned Ann Arbor into a second home with a little help from her friends and family. She says that having her older sister in Ann Arbor has helped make the transition smoother.

“We spend an absurd amount of time together,” Ella said. “We’re just so close.”

Ella recalled that Maddy helped calm her down before her first water polo practice. The elder Abbott told the younger to just be herself and do her best: both in the pool and out of it. That advice has helped her bond with the rest of the eight-member freshman water polo class. She said that she was overwhelmed coming to campus at first, but always having the other freshmen around has made things much easier.

“We’ve really relied on each other and even though it’s only been a short period of two months, we have all gotten so close,” Abbott said. “I feel so supported and I always have someone to lean on with that constant group of seven people around me.”

Abbott’s roommate and fellow water polo freshman, Carter Britt, has also played a large role in Abbott’s transition to Michigan. Abbott and Britt grew up together and were captains together on the Corona Del Mar water polo team as seniors.  

“[Carter and I] work so well together and get each other like the back of each other’s hands,” Abbott said. “I know when she needs space, she knows when I need space, and we know when we want to have fun together. It really couldn’t be a better dynamic for us.”

Abbott talked about building that sort of dynamic with the rest of the water polo team. She said that part of the reason she chose college athletics is that she could build those relationships and be a part of something larger than herself. And as she begins to build her own Michigan legacy, Ella will try to follow the advice of her older sister:

“Be the person, the leader, the character that you’ve always been and don’t change for anything. Play for the team.”

Release courtesy University of Michigan Athletics Communications

Collegiate Water Polo Association