Strokes of determination
- October 17, 2023
- How persistence and drive led UCI business economics major Jack Stevens to UCI and the men’s water polo team
Before every game, junior utility and business economics major Jack Stevens slips in his earbuds to listen to “Relax My Eyes” by Anotr. The electronic beats help ease his nerves before a big game. The song has become a ritual that grounds him.
Although, it doesn’t appear that Stevens has much to be nervous about. He’s currently one of UCI men’s water polo’s leaders in goals, and last season, he scored 24 goals, had 7 steals, and led the team with a 63-17 (0.738) record in sprint wins.
“He is in the top 5% of all athletes in our sport,” says head coach and director of water polo, Dan Klatt.
And he excels out of the pool as well. The outstanding athlete was included in the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches All-Academic team, the Golden Coast Conference All-Academic Team, and UCI’s Dean’s Honor List winter quarter.
For Stevens, success is the result of hard work and a refusal to give up on his dreams.
The UC dream
Before he was an Anteater, Stevens was a Tesoro High School Titan. His water polo coach - Christian Cardey - believed Stevens could pursue collegiate level play; he led his high school water polo team in goals, was MVP for three years running, and was selected for the All-American team for two events in swimming.
Largely influenced by his older sister who attended UC Santa Barbara, Stevens had his heart set on attending a UC. When he wasn’t admitted straight from high school, he was crushed. He had offers to play water polo at other institutions but was determined to attend a university with a strong academic reputation. He turned down his enrollment offers and enrolled at Saddleback Community College with the hope of transferring.
And instead of letting the setback deter him, it “lit a fire.” At Saddleback, Stevens structured his days to prioritize his studies. He says that academics don’t come easy for him and that it was “brute force” that powered him through. He took an incredible 30 units per semester so he could obtain the necessary 60 units required to transfer to a UC in one year, instead of the usual two.
His time at Saddleback proved to be extremely formative, largely due to the guidance of head water polo coach Jason Lynch.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. He helped develop me in and out of the water. He cared about me. He changed my life,” Stevens says.
When Stevens received his long-awaited acceptance letter to UCI, he was elated.
“The decision to attend was a no-brainer. It was a perfect fit. The academics are great and so is the water polo team. Plus, Dan Klatt is an amazing coach,” he says.
Both as an Anteater and as a Titan, Stevens has been just as impactful out of the water as he has been in it.
In high school, he participated in the Best Buddies program, a student-led organization which facilitates friendships between students with and without disabilities. Sadly, his buddy, Zachary Woodard, a fellow student who was diagnosed with myotubular myopathy, passed away. When Woodard’s parents founded Lightz of Hope, a non-profit organization that gifts children with disability or illness an LED Bluetooth disco speaker to brighten their day, they asked Stevens to be on the junior board of directors. It’s a role Stevens continues to take pride in today.
Stevens’ character and impact on those around him is clear from the moment you meet him, says Coach Klatt. “He is the guy everyone on the team likes and wants to be around. I know that I enjoy coaching more because of Jack and I believe his teammates enjoy playing more as well,” he says. “Jack makes the world a better place just by being himself.”
Stevens is so personable, it’s no surprise that his favorite memories from his time on the men’s water polo team are the times spent just joking around in the locker room after practice.
“We’re a close team with a great bond. Everyone really cares for each other,” he says.
Swimming to success
When it came time to pick his major, Stevens drew inspiration from his family. His grandfather experienced success in business, both of his parents are sales representatives, and he has an older sister who is majoring in economics. After college, Stevens plans to follow in his parents’ footsteps and pursue a career in sales.
“I’m a super social person. The idea of waking up to talk to people all day is exciting to me,” he says.
Stevens is grateful for the opportunity to play and study at UCI and aims to make the most of it. With his optimism and work ethic, he’s undoubtedly making everyone who knows him proud.
“He is always looking for the good in people and situations,” says Klatt. “The more people we have on the Earth like Jack Stevens the better the world will be for everyone. I find myself looking up to him as a role model for attitude and the right way to approach life.”
-Jill Kato for UCI School of Social Sciences
-pictured: Jack Stevens in action for UCI Mens Water Polo. Stevens with his mom and dad. Family photo shows Stevens in center with (left to right) his Uncle Rick, Aunt Alicia, his mom Kristen Stevens, his Aunt Karen, and his dad, John Stevens.