Water drew Francesca “Frankie” Puerzer to UC Santa Barbara. Of course, the beachside location was unbeatable, but she also was attracted by the chance to play water polo on a Division 1 team and to study marine biology, two of her lifelong dreams.
Eight family members, mostly from the Bay Area, traveled to UCSB to watch her cross the commencement stage on Saturday. Her aunt traveled across the continent to cheer for Puerzer, who is the first in her immediate family to receive a university degree.
“College has just been the best experience ever, but it feels bittersweet to be graduating,” Puerzer said. “I’ve grown a lot and didn’t take my freedom for granted. The experience has been everything I hoped it would be.”
Playing water polo as a freshman on the D1 team, Puerzer immediately found among her teammates a group of friends with whom she practiced 20 hours a week. She described her freshman year as probably the most difficult she’d ever experienced.
“Studying in college is a very different game,” she said. “I’d always been a really good student and I expected it to come easy but it didn’t. But after that first quarter, I really understood how things worked a little better. It was really a cool experience.”
In her sophomore year, Puerzer switched to UCSB’s club water polo team in order to dedicate herself to her studies. That year — and again this year — the team qualified for the Collegiate Water Polo Association national tournament. Puerzer said her fondest UCSB memory is from the 2013 tournament.
“We had one more team we had to beat and we hadn’t beaten them the whole season,” she recalled. “I remember the moment when we scored a goal that put us ahead and then the buzzer went off. Everyone on my team met in the middle of the pool. It was so exciting and I’m pretty sure we all cried a little bit. It was really a great moment with all my close friends.”
Such memories last a lifetime, but UCSB’s academic excellence also has had a huge impact on Puerzer. “Marine biology opened a lot of doors for me,” she said. “Everything I learned in class translated directly into what I did in the field. When I started, I had no idea that a scientific research diver was an actual job, and now it’s my dream. I’m confident that’s what I’ll end up doing, thanks to my studies at UCSB.”