A home away from home: Tigers share unique journeys to Pacific
Before every water polo game, fifth-year senior Rene Peralta ’23 readies his mind by putting on his earbuds, listening to Spanish music and dancing side to side.
“It’s what helps me,” Peralta said. “It’s how I work and get into my flow before games. It’s what makes me unique on this team.”
A Miami native, Peralta is one of several Tigers who grew up outside California and came to University of the Pacific to play at Water Polo U, as its known.
“When people contact us from out of state, it piques our interest right away because we really like out-of-state players at Pacific,” said head coach James Graham. “They are a key to our success.”
Peralta is proving that point. He is at the forefront of the Tigers’ offense, tallying up 22 goals and 37 points, which ranks third on the team.
“Rene is one of the great success stories of Pacific water polo,” Graham said. “He came in and had a great swimming ability, but it didn’t translate to the game. We had conversations about leaning into his strengths and focusing on how he can use his superpowers to be successful.”
Junior Cooper Gaderson ’25 grew up in Austin, Texas, and described water polo as an “afterthought” in the region. His passion for the sport inspired him to create a club team his junior year at Austin High School.
After visiting the Stockton Campus and sitting down with the coaching staff, Gaderson chose Pacific to continue his water polo journey and pursue a national championship.
“One thing that’s special about our team is that everyone gets to know each other pretty well,” Gaderson said. “Everyone is really open. I felt that when I first came in, and it feels great still to this day.”
Gaderson has evolved into one of the top Tigers this season and attributes his success to patience and flexibility.
“Cooper is a very natural player and has a good feel for how to play water polo, but (what has helped him excel) was stepping up to the aggressiveness level and the mentality necessary to compete against the nation’s elite, understanding how intense it is in each moment,” Graham said.
Junior Declan McJilton’s ’25 journey from Seattle to Stockton was largely due to alumni Truly Dorland ’21, a familiar face in the Pacific water polo program. Dorland played for the women’s team from 2017 to 2021.
“She taught me how to play water polo in Seattle,” McJilton said. “She also gave me the tour around campus, and I ended up falling in love with it. I stayed in contact with the coaches, got an offer to commit, and there was no way I could turn this down.”
Nearly a month into the season, McJilton finds the team has gelled well with a plethora of new faces.
“The whole water polo IQ and having such a diverse team with people coming from everywhere and playing so many styles of water polo has been such a blessing,” McJilton said.
McJilton has had 10 goals through a dozen games, playing as a powerful attacker when called upon by Graham.
“Declan is a very tenacious player right off the bat,” Graham said. “He’s aggressive and able to take feedback well.”
As the Tigers prepare for Homecoming and Family Weekend when they take on California Baptist Saturday, Oct. 14 and UC Santa Barbara Sunday, Oct. 15, Gaderson, McJilton, Peralta and the rest of the Tigers are embracing their new home in the best way they can—through water polo.