Senior Water Polo Player Jackson Hettler Commits to Cal (Web Exclusive)


While the majority of seniors are stressing over college applications, Jackson Hettler doesn’t have to worry. Hettler just recently committed to play water polo for The University of California, Berkeley next year. That’s not to say he hasn’t worked his heart out to get him into the position he’s in now. Hettler started playing water polo in sixth grade after being influenced by his dad who played all through high school and college. That being said, he is very adamant that playing water polo was his decision. “I started playing in middle school and I kind of just fell in love with the sport,” said Hettler. “My dad played all through high school and college but he didn’t pressure me into it at all. It was my choice and my family and friends have been supportive of it.”  

This year Hettler also received many offers from top notch schools including University of Pacific, Whittier, Air Force, and Wagner, but out of all the institutions, he chose Cal. Aside from having first class academics and athletics, and being not too far from home, there was another reason he was interested in becoming a Golden Bear. “My Tam assistant coach, Bobby Palmer, went to Berkley and I felt like I wanted to continue his legacy,” said Hettler. This is the same assistant coach who during the NCS Championship gave Hettler a speech he would never forget. “In the NCS Championship we’re losing by one and our assistant coach pulls us aside and is like, ‘as I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil because we are the baddest mother f***ers in the valley.’ Although Hettler is too humble to admit it, his success in water polo backs up his coach’s statement.

During sophomore, junior, and senior year he was awarded “All League First Team” in MCAL. In 2012 and 2013 he was awarded “Academic All American.” In 2015, he was awarded “High School All American.” And most impressively, in all four years on the Varsity team, he scored 330 goals, more than any Tam student in history. When he was asked, “what brought you to the place you are today?” his one word answer was, “determination.”

“If you look at the best athletes, Stephen Curry for example, when he misses a shot and his team loses, you know he kicks himself, we all do, but he doesn’t let it get to his head,” Hettler said. “I think being determined and not giving up in those moments where lesser athletes will let it get in their heads, is the best way to be successful.” When asked how he got this determination, again he responded with one word, “experience.”

“You gotta play games, you gotta watch other athletes. I watched other experienced athletes when I was a sophomore and they were seniors. I would watch how they would play and how they would react to certain situations,” said Hettler.

Although learning from older players helped enhance Hettler’s game, he credits much of his success to the Head Coach of the Tam team, Bob Kustel. “Bob is an amazing guy, everyone loves him, and I think because everyone loves him, everyone pushes themselves harder because they want to do well for him,” said Hettler.

He played each season like it was his last and because of that he gets to keep playing for another four years. Although there are many things he will miss, none is more important than the bonds he formed with his teammates. “We had such good camaraderie and such a great team atmosphere and even though maybe we didn’t have the most wins, we always had the most fun,” said Hettler. Teammate, Nate Fisher said, “Jackson was a leader, but more importantly, a friend. It’s amazing how hard he’s worked. I’m gonna miss the big guy.”

Looking back on high school, the six foot four student athlete has no regrets, which is why he’s been able to be so successful. “For any athlete, I think you always wish you could have worked harder or pushed harder but I really don’t,” said Hettler. “I’m proud of what my team and I have accomplished in high school and I’m glad that I got to go through that experience.”