Mardell Ramirez Is Ready for a New Challenge after a Stellar Career in the Pool at Cal Lutheran
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
If anyone knows where she is going and how to get there it is Mardell Ramirez. Years and years spent in the pool have taught her valuable life lessons like discipline, dedication and determination and as she leaves collegiate athletics behind to focus on career goals she has all the tools she needs to succeed.
Since she was a young girl, Ramirez has thrived on competition and, blessed with amazing speed, she started posting Junior Olympic trial times practically from the moment she started swimming at age 7. As a freshman at Brentwood School she decided to give water polo a try and played on the Eagles’ boys team. Growing up in the Alphabet Streets, she had many friends at Palisades High and upon transferring there as a sophomore, she blossomed into a two-sport star at Maggie Gilbert Aquatic Center. Her success continued in college as she excelled in swimming and water polo at Cal Lutheran University, where she graduated with a B.A. in Psychology and Art.
“I chose Cal Lutheran because I wanted to continue my athletic career at the collegiate level,” says Ramirez, who in the fall begins pursuing her M.A. in Marital and Family Therapy with emphasis in Art Therapy at Loyola Marymount University. “While I love competing and have met great people through athletics I felt I also needed to make sure I had the chance to pursue other avenues in college. I decided early on I would choose a Division III school if this exploration were to be possible. I also liked small class sizes and the unique opportunities the more intimate school setting presented. After narrowing down my search to a handful of universities including Chapman, Connecticut College and Redlands, I ultimately settled on Cal Lutheran as it provided the greatest financial flexibility for my family and I.”
Ramirez fine-tuned her strokes swimming for Palisades-Malibu YMCA and Team Santa Monica and sharpened her shooting playing water polo for Westside Aquatics. Whether it be high school or club she was always in the water.
“Academically, the transition from high school to college went smoothly for me,” she says. “I felt well prepared coming out of Pali High and Cal Lu provided me with a plethora of academic resources. Something that might have hindered my transition my freshman year was that I drove home to the Palisades on most weekends to see my friends. The longer I was at school, however, the more time I spent on campus instead of at home. By my sophomore year I spent most weekends at school and loved living in the dorms. Being a part of a team also helped me socially and I found lots of good people in those communities.”
Ramirez finds that swimming and water polo are challenging, but in different ways.
“I think both sports are equally difficult,” she says. “Many people might assume they are similar since both are aquatic sports but they’re actually very unique in the way you train for them, the role team dynamic plays in your success and the ways in which each sport challenges you mentally and emotionally. However, all athletes are different and experiences will vary. In my opinion, swimming has a more strenuous training period. At the peak of a swim season, I would be swimming 11,000-13,000 yards in a day, along with an evening weights session. When thinking back on those days, I yearn for them as I loved the feeling of being in great physical shape and the simplicity of a day filled with working out but when I was actually living this lifestyle, it was exhausting. The training that swimming competitively requires is physically, emotionally and mentally demanding. I think this is mostly because in part you’re doing it for yourself and your individual success. Some athletes I’ve met are extremely self-directed and driven, while others I’ve met much prefer being part of a team where the successes and hardships are shared. I think water polo is more structured for the latter. I personally had a stronger overall camaraderie with my water polo teammates because we were able to speak to one another throughout the majority of practices and games. Effective communication is extremely important for a successful water polo team, so becoming closer as a team was highly encouraged. While water polo is also physically demanding and mentally and emotionally strenuous, I never felt like I was carrying the strain alone. I do believe the two sports are most similar in the way they require athletes who love to be in the pool and love the feeling of competing.”
Ramirez helped Palisades’ girls water polo team reach the City finals in each of her three seasons, though the Dolphins lost all three to Eagle Rock.
“The game I most remember was an away game at Venice High,” she recalls. “I missed the bus and had to take an Uber because I couldn’t drive on my own yet. I cried the whole way. The Uber driver was really nice and talked me up before dropping me off for the game, but I was a senior captain, so as punishment my coach benched me for the first three quarters. We ended up winning and I remember being so proud of how all the younger girls had come together and played extremely well despite our normal setup being tweaked last minute.”
Ramirez went to UCLA Lab School until sixth grade, then to Brentwood School. Her brother Zeke is on the water polo team at Santa Monica College.
“I keep in touch with a handful of high school teammates, some of whom I think will be lifelong friends,” she says. “I’ve also competed against and with some teammates from high school including Jackie Au, Zach Senator and Jake Venckus.”
Ramirez helped the Palisades swim team to three straight City championships. As a senior in 2015 she clocked a personal-best 52.4-second split in the 400 freestyle relay in which the Dolphins set a new finals record (3:34.97). She also won the 100 freestyle, took second in the 100 backstroke and swam the first leg of Palisades’ victorious 200 medley relay.
Her proudest accomplishments at Cal Lutheran were setting a conference record in the 200 freestyle (1:51.10) in 2017 and leading the Regals’ water polo squad to the 2019 SCIAC Tournament title.
“I really enjoyed the 500 freestyle and 200 backstroke, but the 200 freestyle is definitely my favorite event to swim,” says Ramirez, who enjoys painting and drawing in her free time and also loves walking her dog in Temescal Canyon and body surfing at the beach. “Setting the SCIAC record was a very happy moment for me. I loved being able to show the hard work of my coaches at the time and friends Tom Dodd, Kevin Lane and Jonathon Hall. It felt good to see my own athletic improvement as a result of the hard work I put in. I didn’t score any goals in our championship game [in water polo] but I had steals and assists and won the majority of the sprints, which was my responsibility and role on the team. Winning the SCIAC and taking the title from Pomona-Pitzer was something my teammates and I had been visualizing from the second they beat us out for first place the year before. I lived with four other senior captains and we talked about what we would need to do in order to be successful in that game at meals, laying in bed at night and on drives to campus. So when all of our hopes and planning came to fruition, we could not have been more ecstatic.”
Ramirez cites accountability as the biggest difference between high school and college athletics: “I had to be more accountable for my success being part of a collegiate team. My parents weren’t there to force me to go to practice, my coaches didn’t give more than one warning when it came to absences or tardiness and my professors weren’t always understanding of class conflicts. In order to be successful in school and sports I had to work out a lot of the scheduling and logistics on my own, which was great. It helped me grow as an athlete and a person.”
As for her future, Ramirez would like to become a licensed marital and family therapist and a board certified art therapist. Right now she is working as an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist with young children and she likes to help out by dog sitting and babysitting her neighbors’ children when she has the time.
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