A thick Dutch accent rang through the air at Spieker Aquatics Center as the UCLA women’s water polo team was practicing its drills in the winter of 2015.
Lizette Rozeboom, a sophomore attacker from the Netherlands, was simply following directions when her teammates began laughing.
“We did a drill where we had to yell, ‘One pocket,’” Rozeboom said. “My accent was so bad. Everyone started laughing when I said it.”
Her teammates recall some of their fondest playful memories from the past season.
“She’ll be doing a really good job of communicating during practice,” said sophomore defender Rachel Whitelegge. “And then she’ll yell something with a funny accent, and then it’s just five minutes of straight laughter.”
Her accent is less noticeable now, and she’s no longer just copying what her teammates do in practice. That took some time, however.
Rozeboom hails from Hilversum, a city in the Netherlands known for its radio, television and musical stations, hence its nickname, Media City. It’s not necessarily known for its water polo.
“Water polo is not that big in the Netherlands,” Rozeboom said. “People know what it is. But it’s not on TV and not many people play it. It’s kind of low-key.”
There are many former athletes, and in particular, water polo players, who reside in Hilversum whom Rozeboom could draw inspiration from throughout her water polo upbringing.
Danielle de Bruijn, a left-handed player on the 2008 Dutch Olympic gold medal team, played for the same club team as Rozeboom. She met the gold medalist last summer following the Ligue Européenne de Natation European Junior Water Polo Championships.
“She might have been the leading scorer, but she talked about the team process,” Rozeboom said. “She hammered being a team.”
De Bruijn was just one of the many factors that influenced Rozeboom’s water polo career.
Rozeboom’s initial team at the outset of her aquatics career wasn’t a water polo one, however. Like most water polo players, she was a swimmer before she ever shot a ball into a net.
“I was always swimming,” Rozeboom said. “And then one day, I saw water polo in the other pool. I was just looking and then one of the coaches walked up to me. She asked me if I wanted to join a practice, and two days later, I did.”
At the age of 11, she entered the Dutch youth circuit for water polo, where she began catching the attention of several scouts.
Rozeboom continued playing for local club teams until she entered high school. She joined Widex GZC Donk, a top water polo organization in the Netherlands, whose alumni include Olympians such as Patricia Libregts, a member of the 2000 Dutch Olympic team.
Rozeboom was the leading scorer for Widex GZC Donk during the U-17 National Championship, winning 2013 and 2014 seasons.
To this day, she attributes much of her current success to various members of her club team, including her coach, Johan Anges.
“He payed a lot of attention to how I used my legs,” Rozeboom said. “He focused on little movements of the ball and playing with the ball in your hands. It was all skill work.”
In 2014, she caught UCLA coach Brandon Brooks’ attention.
Brooks went to Madrid to watch the Youth World Championships to see teams from around the world and players like Rozeboom, he said, and he later reached out to her with an opportunity to come to UCLA.
“The decision to go to UCLA was quickly made by Lizette,” said Leonie Rozeboom, her mother. “A few other universities had made her an offer, but she only wanted to go to the best. There was no argument about it.”
Going to the best, however, comes with its own set of difficulties. Namely, the quarter system.
“The first quarter was the hardest,” Lizette Rozeboom said. “From then on, it just became easier as I learned the language more.”
None of these challenges were new to her, however – back in the Netherlands, she had to balance both her academics and her athletic endeavors.
When she wasn’t in class at Alberdingk Thijm College, a high school that specializes in information technology and computers, she was conditioning and shooting in the pool.
Oftentimes, she completed her homework assignments during the hourlong car rides to Gouda, Netherlands, where her training sessions were held.
During her transition, she received advice from her family members back home. Rozeboom called her mother daily as she continued to find her footing away from Hilversum.
“In the beginning, it was about official papers and health insurance,” Lizette Rozeboom said. “And then it was just talking about my day. She would tell me about what was happening at home, so I would not feel as homesick.”
Today, Rozeboom said she still misses aspects of her native country and being around family, such as her little brother, Giovanni Rozeboom.
“Family is definitely number one,” Lizette Rozeboom said. “I think my brother is the person I miss the most. We are best friends and it’s really hard.”
Though half a world apart from the people and places she grew up around, Rozeboom hasn’t missed a beat when it comes to the pool. As a freshman, she was third on the team in scoring with 40 goals and was selected to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation All-Newcomer Team.
After all, water polo is not just the sport that brought her from the Netherlands to Westwood in the first place. It’s also one thing that’s familiar to both.