Rylee Mitchell to Play Water Polo at Washington and Jefferson College


As a relative newcomer to the game, it did not take long for Saline-Milan senior Rylee Mitchell to catch on to the game and it has paid off as she signed a letter of intent to play water polo at Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania.

Mitchell, who had been competitively swimming for 12 years, decided to try water polo in December 2021 with the Wolverine Water Polo Club.

“I started playing because my cousin Annie played for San Diego State University and talked me into trying,” Mitchell said. “Annie lives in California and was named the Orange County Player of the Year before going to SDSU. She was one of the biggest influences on me trying water polo.”

Rylee’s younger sister Sara, who is also on the Saline-Milan began playing water polo in the summer of 2021 and would come home telling stories about how much fun it was.

Rylee was swimming for the Milan girls’ swim team at the time and could not start water polo until the season was over. “I didn't want to quit swimming because of all the work I had put into it, but I knew I needed a change,” Mitchell said. “Water polo was a perfect fit where I could use my swimming abilities to my advantage and have fun with a new sport.”

Mitchell will be studying Mathematics at Washington and Jefferson. “My family is made of generations upon generations of mathematicians, and I plan to continue that as I major in mathematics and minor in Spanish,” Mitchell said. “My grandfather on my mom's side was a mathematician in the Pentagon, and I'm pretty sure I get my math skills from him.”

“Going to Milan my entire life, I haven't had any experience with big schools/cities,” Rylee said. “When I visited Washington and Jefferson, I got to go to a class with my future teammate, Anastasia. As soon as we started walking to class, it seemed like everyone knew her. Almost anyone we passed on our way to class said hi or asked how she was. Later on, there was an open swim session and all the water polo girls stayed after practice so we could all just pass around the ball and get to know each other. I felt like I was a great fit on their team. Afterward, we all got food at a place nearby on campus. It was just such a positive environment and reminds me of home.”

One of the biggest highlights of her career was when Rylee and her sister Sara got to play at the Junior Olympics in California last summer. “The competition was at the highest level, and it was just so cool seeing how other people across the country played. My team overall won two games and tied once and lost all the others, but that's just the reality of playing at such a high level,” Mitchell said. “My cousin Annie and her parents came out to support me too. Since they live in California, I don't see them often, so it was really cool for them to be there. They even made Sara and me posters.”

Saline and Milan schools joined together to form the co-op Saline-Milan Chickadees girls’ water polo team before the 2022 season. Coach Alli Littlejohn was the coach when Saline and Milan joined together to form the team. “Coach Alli has been there from the start and has made me the player I am today,” Mitchell said. “I'm sure Alli was a bit skeptical of our skill level (as we had never really played before). Alli turned each of us from players who were scared of physical contact, to players who can use physical contact to their advantage in the game. Alli has taught me everything I know about the game. She is a very devoted coach, and I am so lucky to have had her these past two seasons.”

Being able to play with her sister Sara has been a big part of Rylee’s water polo improvement. “Sara and I are very competitive, so I knew I needed to join because there was just no way I could let her be better than me at something,” Rylee said. “Being on the team with her this year has been nothing less than an adventure. When we get matched up together is when we play with the most intensity. Something about sibling competition just sparks a fire between us when we're against each other.”

When STN asked Rylee about what she would like people to know about her journey, Mitchell replied “I want the community to know about the people who started this journey. Before water polo existed in my life, there was swimming. Without Milan Swim, I would have never even thought about playing water polo. Coaches Kerry Frame and Dan Heikka are whom to thank for keeping me in the program. Kerry and Heikka aren't just coaches to me, they're almost like second parents. Growing up, when I wasn't at home or at school, I was at the pool with them. They have taught me leadership, integrity, and what it's like to be a part of pure greatness. Kerry and Heikka have always valued us as people before us as athletes, and I am forever grateful to have experienced that. I am also extremely thankful for their endless support in water polo. They both make time to come out to support us, which is something not every coach is willing or able to do.”

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