Brown University-bound Audrey Gallagher possesses two attributes that are almost essential to being a good water polo goalie: long arms and a short memory.
Credit genes for the lengthy limbs – “I am 5-8 1/2 and my arm span is longer than my height. I’m very fortunate,” the Los Altos Hills resident said – but the short memory was developed over time. Playing goalie since middle school, Gallagher has learned to quickly forget about the shot that just got past her and focus on the next one headed her way.
“After a shot goes in, I reflect on what I could change or the defense could, then I move on,” she said. “You don’t want to beat yourself up.”
Gallagher’s high school team took its lumps. She played for Lick-Wilmerding High in San Francisco, which launched its water polo program only a few years before her arrival in 2017.
“It was important that the high school had a team, but it didn’t have to be a winning team,” Gallagher said of choosing the small private institution after graduating from Bullis Charter School. “It has a really strong technical arts program, which I was really interested in.”
Gallagher became the starting goalie her freshman season when the Tigers had just 10 varsity players. Lick didn’t have a winning season in her time there, finishing in the bottom half of the challenging West Alameda County League each year, but “we improved a lot,” she said. If her senior season had not been canceled last fall because of the pandemic, Gallagher estimated that the roster would have included 22 girls.
Leading by example
Lick coach Keeon Jabbour raved about Gallagher’s contributions to the team.
“Audrey gave 100% of herself,” he said of his team captain. “She leads by example like no one I’ve ever met.”
Statistically, Gallagher’s best season came in her junior year when she earned first-team all-league honors and was voted team MVP for the second time. Gallagher totaled 275 saves in 19 games – an average of 14.5 per match – along with 38 steals.
“She had more saves than she had goals against that season,” Jabbour said, “and against good teams.”
Gallagher made double-digit saves in 17 games that year, including a season-best 22 in a 5-4 triple-overtime loss to San Leandro.
“I remember taking a lot of one-on-goalie shots,” Gallagher said of what she ranked as the best performance of her high school career. “I blocked a lot of those shots – that felt good.”
Gallagher’s first save came years earlier playing for NorCal Aquatics, a club team based at Los Altos High. That’s where “she learned to play and love water polo,” according to mom Anne Marie Gallagher. Joining in sixth grade, Gallagher tried an array of positions before settling in at goalkeeper.
“I enjoyed it right away,” she said of the sport, “and after six months to a year, I took on the role (of goalie). One thing in general I liked about water polo (from the start) is that I’ve always felt like I’m improving – and it was a challenge.”
Gallagher moved to West Valley Water Polo as a freshman and still plays for the club. She helped the under-18 girls team qualify for the Junior Olympics, set to start today in Southern California.
“We’ve done well,” said Gallagher, whose team placed seventh at last month’s qualifier. “I’m excited for JOs; we should do well.”
Doing the work
Once the tournament ends, she plans to get back to her summer training. Gallagher said she’s been training six days a week with her club and also attends a separate goalie clinic on Tuesdays.
Amid the pandemic, Gallagher turned to another sport she enjoys, open water swimming, which helped her stay in shape for water polo. In June 2020, she nearly crossed Lake Tahoe, swimming nine miles before bowing out “due to strong afternoon winds and choppy water,” her mom said.
Gallagher does all this while managing Type 1 diabetes.
“It’s definitely been a learning curve,” she said. “At first, I was nervous playing a water sport because I have an insulin pump that I need to take off for swimming, and I also have to watch what I eat before practice. But I’ve been doing it for a few years and have figured out what’s best for me.”
Gallagher added that she’s also figured out how to balance the demands of water polo with her other responsibilities and activities.
“Time management is really important,” said the USA Water Polo Academic All-American. “You need to know when to prioritize school and sleep.”
Gallagher also made time for recruiting, contacting several college coaches as a junior. Brown was already on her radar – older brother Joe plays goalie on the men’s team and she attended a camp at the university the summer after her sophomore year. She said the coaches couldn’t promise her a spot at the Ivy League school, because the team already had two goalies, but that was a moot point after Gallagher got in during the regular-decision round.
“I was so excited,” said Gallagher, one of nine freshmen set to join the team.
Along with Joe, a St. Francis High graduate, her other older siblings also have competed at the college level: Kieran in track and field at Harvard University and the University of Michigan; and Anneliese in rowing at Columbia University.
Gallagher, who leaves for Brown at the end of August, hasn’t chosen a major yet but said it will “definitely be STEM related,” perhaps mechanical engineering or physics.
Gallagher’s high school coach is confident she will thrive in the classroom and in the pool.
“She’s very competitive, and she has talent and drive,” Jabbour said. “I expect nothing but the best for her.”