Senior Spotlight: AJ Rossman and Quinn Woodhead

Nov. 27, 2021, 7:45 a.m.

For the last four years, 2MD AJ Rossman and driver Quinn Woodhead have been core pieces of the Cardinal men’s water polo team. Both are three-time MPSF champions (2018-20) and 2019 NCAA champions. As seniors, the two co-captained this year’s Stanford team, leading the Cardinal to an impressive 19-6 record, including a 12-game win-streak to start the season. Rossman appeared in every single game in 2021, and Woodhead missed only two.

On the score sheet, the roommates individually stand out, too. The latter is second overall on the team in goals with 41, and the former is close behind with 29. Both had at least 10 multi-goal games this season.

And the duo also shines in the classroom. Both California-natives are also three-time ACWPC All-Academic – Outstanding (2018-20). Both intend to graduate this spring, Rossman majoring in Computer Science and Woodhead majoring in Product Design.

The Daily’s water polo desk editor Cybele Zhang spoke to Rossman and Woodhead prior to the conclusion of their senior season.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): How were you first introduced to water polo, and what has your experience with the sport been like since then?

Quinn Woodhead (QW): My mom was a swimmer in college — she actually went to Stanford and swam. She had my siblings and I swimming from a young age, so we were in the pool when we were five or six. And then when I was about nine or 10, one of the opposing [swim] teams started forming this water polo community. It was a great group of guys, and it was just kind of a no-brainer for my brother and I to join them. So we started swimming and playing with them, and since then I’ve just continued to grow and love the sport more. Eventually, I was playing with the same group of seven guys in high school [at Sir Francis Drake in Marin County]; we had some success in high school and in club, and then we all went on to continue playing in college. So yeah, just joining that group of guys from a young age and us all having the motivation to keep playing, that was awesome.

AJ Rossman (AR): My mom was a swimmer, and so I was kind of thrown in the water ever since I could walk. I started doing club swimming around six years old. My family belonged to a summer club, and they would always do these five-week little water polo seasons, where we compete against other summer clubs…My older brother would do it, and I was just kind of thrown in because they needed bodies. [I would play up] from pure necessity…I would just play a bunch and then started taking it more seriously when I was 13 or 14. I like swimming, but I also like the physical aspect of water polo. And I was good at it, so it was just a natural progression.

TSD: AJ, you grew up in Bellevue, Wash., but moved to Orange County, Calif. as a junior in high school. Did water polo prompt the move?

AR: That was part of it. My dad’s job was also part of it. Water polo is a very weird sport because it’s almost entirely based in California. So the water polo competition in Washington was fine, but I wasn’t going to get to Stanford if I was playing high school water polo there.

TSD: Why did you chose Stanford originally? Quinn, did the fact that your brother Dylan Woodhead ‘20 was already here affect your decision?

QW: My mom went to Stanford. My dad went to Cal. My brother was always a Cal fan. I was a Stanford fan. So when he went to Stanford it kind of shook things up. But as soon as I got the chance to go to Stanford, I didn’t really think much further. I’ve been coming to football games here, coming to water polo games my whole life. It’s always been a dream to come to Stanford, so it wasn’t that much of a decision for me. As soon as I started talking to the coach and got that all good, I was set on Stanford.

AR: I think Stanford was kind of in the back of my head from a pretty early age. My brother is two years older than me, so I would go on college tours with him when I was like 14 or so. He visited Stanford, and I was like, ‘This place is dope.’ I was thinking of Stanford even before water polo was really in the picture. It just so happened that it kind of worked out really well; my high school coach in SoCal played at Stanford, and so he had a lot of really good connections that connected me here. But I chose Stanford because I see it as the epicenter of excellence in all areas; I wanted to play water polo at a really competitive level, but I also wanted to be respected as a student and a person that’s dedicated to excellence.

TSD: Has Stanford been everything you’ve expected? Looking back on the last four years, what has been challenging?

AR: Looking back now I’m a senior, I think it is a lot of what I expected. It’s hard. [laughter] It’s been the most fun I’ve had in my life, but it’s also been the most stressful and the hardest period of my life. And that’s, you know, where growth comes from — by pushing yourself, which is what I wanted to do by coming to Stanford. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and, you know, water polo is a full time job. But I take pride in doing stuff that not everyone wants to do.

TSD: On the flip side, what are those other things out of the water that keep you busy and keep you happy?

QW: I’m thankful for a good community of friends — we’re living with a lot of friends in Suites right now — and just my water polo team outside the pool, just having that community to fall back on. It’s great to have something to get your mind off of water polo a lot of the time, and just having good friends, good community really helps with that.

TSD: Quinn, your brother Dylan, himself a former driver for the Cardinal, joined the coaching staff earlier this season as a volunteer assistant. What has it been like to have your brother as a coach?

QW: It’s awesome. I’ve been playing with him basically my whole life, so it’s nothing new or weird. It’s definitely good to have someone around that I can talk to that knows me as a player really well and is out of the pool watching and can give some great feedback, personally. So I really enjoy having him around, and I think it’s definitely a big help to the team.

TSD: What was it like to watch Dylan compete for the United States in water polo in the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year?

QW: That was a wild experience. I feel like him making the team and going all happened so fast. And then us not being able to go to Tokyo was just a really crazy experience, but we were talking to him every day, getting pictures. He came back with so many cool stories about meeting athletes — Pau Gasol and just crazy people. But yeah, it was great to watch him and Team USA in the Olympics. We had some watch parties with our team here, threw it up on the TV. That was his dream for such a long time, and it was great to see it come true. 

TSD: What are your plans post-Stanford? Do you see water polo in your future beyond the collegiate level?

AR: I’m currently in the process of trying to figure that out. I think it’s definitely an option, but I’m probably going to make that decision once the season’s over. I have another year [of eligibility] if I want, so I could do that. Or you could play in Europe if you wanted to. But also part of me just kind of wants to go work, but we will see. I don’t know yet.

QW: [Turning pro] is the plan right now. I’d love to play in Europe for some time, hopefully join my brother and try to train for the USA team — that’s the next goal.

This transcript has been merged, lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Cybele Zhang '22 is a Senior Staff Writer and Desk Editor (football/water polo/rowing) from Los Angeles. She is double majoring in English Literature and German Studies and previously served as Sports Editor—Vol. 255, 257 and 258.

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