As Jake Cavano walked out of the Broad Art Center, he stopped by the lab technician’s office to ask about taking a class: ceramics.
The UCLA men’s water polo freshman attacker said that after experiencing the wheel for the first time as a Bruin, he remembered how peaceful it was to throw a block of clay in high school.
“Every day, you can make a new piece,” Cavano said. “You can take your mind off of whatever else you have going on (and) just throw a pot or trim a piece or sculpt something.”
While Cavano may work delicately and gracefully in the ceramics studio, the high school All-American is an elite athlete in the pool.
Cavano said he first started out in the water as a junior lifeguard, and he picked up water polo after watching some of his fellow junior lifeguards getting into the game.
“I was kind of intrigued,” Cavano said. “There was a free water polo clinic, and my mom asked me if I wanted to try it out. I went for it.”
He was hooked from day one.
Cavano said he had to work hard on his swimming to catch up with the other players, especially since he had never been on a swim team before he started water polo.
“Right when I started, the coach came up to me and was like, ‘You could be a serious addition to this team,’” Cavano said. “I had never played before. I just started training with them for two hours a night, four days a week.”
Cavano eventually caught up, and by senior year of high school, he swam the 50-yard freestyle in under 21 seconds and became an All-American swimmer.
At Huntington Beach High School – where current Bruins redshirt junior goalie Alex Wolf and sophomore center Quinten Osborne also played – Cavano was not always the top option.
“I was always on varsity but we had a pretty good program,” Cavano said. “My first year I played a little bit, second year a little bit more. Third year, I started to start some games, and the fourth year I was starting every game.”
The Oilers finished second in the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section championships during his junior year. By his senior year, Cavano earned a spot on the All-County team and was a two-time All-CIF first-team member.
“Biggest moment is probably beating Mater Dei (High School),” Cavano said. “(Or) the North/South tournament. My freshman year was the first year (Huntington Beach) was invited and by my fourth year we won the tournament.”
As he became a highly regarded prospect, Cavano was recruited early on by a number of top programs. Pepperdine coaches Terry Schroeder and Merrill Moses contacted Cavano, and the All-American committed to play his collegiate career as a Wave.
But the commitment did not last long.
“(The coaches) made Pepperdine seem like a good option,” Cavano said. “But then I wanted a better opportunity at succeeding, and I thought UCLA would get me further in the long run.”
Cavano decommitted to Pepperdine five months later and announced his decision to become a Bruin.
The freshman went on to score five goals in his first home game Sept. 15, in which the Bruins defeated the Waves 16-10 at the Spieker Aquatics Center.
Cavano missed the Bruins’ first eight games due to injury, but has since played in 13 games for the Bruins and scored in every one of them. He currently has 24 goals, fifth on the team for the season. However, he is tied for first in goals since Sept. 13, the day of his Bruin debut.
Coach Adam Wright said Cavano spreads UCLA’s offense and helps to replace some of the goals lost from last year’s senior class.
“He’s a freshman that’s doing a really nice job for us,” Wright said. “He’s a big threat, there’s no secret to that. (Cavano) gives us so much.”
Cavano said his goal-scoring streak is not just due to his individual ability but to the Bruins’ philosophy of selflessness and consistency.
“At UCLA, it’s been preached since the day I got here that having a consistent mentality is the most important thing,” Cavano said. “I’ve approached every game the same way.”
Cavano’s ability has not been limited to only Southern California. He played for multiple youth national teams, including the U.S. men’s junior national team, and has traveled around the world to compete.
“It’s completely different once you get overseas,” Cavano said. “The reffing, the style of play, the physicality is way different. That can help and hurt you in America. It’s a little hard to adjust once you get there and once you get back.”
Osborne has played alongside Cavano in club ball, high school, the junior national team and now at UCLA.
“Best moments with Cavano?” Osborne said. “I’ve known this kid since I was –”
“You were 13, I was 12,” Cavano said as he walked by.
Osborne said some of his favorite experiences with Cavano include the 14U Junior Olympics and their first year together at Vanguard Aquatics.
Becoming one of the top players in the country did not come without a supportive group for Cavano, who said his family has been behind him from the start.
“One hundred percent supportive,” Cavano said. “Both my parents have been like, ‘Whatever you need. We’ll get you to practice at 5 a.m., it doesn’t matter. We’re here for you.’ That’s been really ideal for me.”
Cavano has yet to declare a major at UCLA and said he is taking his time to choose. He also said he wants to pick up his ceramics hobby again during his time as a Bruin.
With much of his energy dedicated toward water polo, Cavano said he found ceramics to be a good way to distract his mind from his stress.
“It’s super mesmerizing and not tiring,” Cavano said. “It’s a good way to decompress.”
Cavano said he first discovered his passion for ceramics when he was deciding on a class senior year of high school. He needed an art credit to graduate, but he said he fell in love with it because of his teacher and his class experience.
“I was thinking about doing a course over the summer,” Cavano said. “I decided my summer was going to be super hectic with the national team and with club water polo. So I just said I would suck it up and do a class in high school.”
Wright was surprised when he heard about Cavano’s ability at the wheel – and he said he is looking forward to a gift someday.
“Maybe he can make me a pot,” Wright said.