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Pepperdine alums, one junior go to 29th Summer Universiade
A group of NCAA Division I student-athletes from across the nation spent the last two weeks in Taipei, Taiwan, competing in the 29th Summer Universiade, sponsored by the International University Sports Federation.
Among them were Pepperdine University junior men’s water polo player Marko Asic and women’s soccer alumni Rylee Baisden and Hannah Seabert. Pepperdine alumna Michelle Pao also represented Taiwan at the events.
“It was a once in-a-lifetime opportunity, and not even something that is in everyone’s lifetime,” said Seabert, a native of Riverside. “I feel very blessed and honored to have been a part of it.”
Universaide competition began Aug. 18, followed by opening ceremonies in front of a sold-out crowd at Taipei Stadium on Aug. 19. Games concluded Aug. 30.
“It was amazing. It was literally a mini-Olympics,” said Baisden, who is from Yorba Linda. “Playing in that environment with all the different countries was surreal.”
All three athletes said the athlete village, which housed all 7,734 competing athletes from 134 countries, was one of the best parts of the trip.
“When you were walking around you hear all of these different languages. You might sit next to Germany at breakfast, but then Japan at lunch and Brazil for dinner. You could sit next to track for one meal, a swimmer for another meal, and then a volleyball player,” said Seabert. “It was awesome to be part of something that was so unifying. Everyone really enjoyed getting to talk to other cultures and learn about sports in other countries.”
Some sports – men’s basketball (Purdue), women’s basketball (Maryland), baseball (Iowa) – were made up of an entire college program to represent the USA, while women’s soccer and men’s water polo were among the sports that built their roster from various schools across the nation.
“Every other country we played was either their national team or they’ve been practicing for years together,” Baisden said. “Our team was made up of 16 girls all from different schools and we all met for the first time in Taiwan.”
Women’s soccer played six games in 12 days, with Seabert and Baisden playing all 90 minutes in each one.
“It was so cool to play with Rylee again. It felt like old times back in college,” said Seabert, who has known Baisden for eight years, including playing together in club before Pepperdine. “It was so nice to be reunited with her, one just to see her as a friend but to be back on the field. There’s a connection that comes with playing with someone for so long.”
It was the first game action for Seabert since Pepperdine’s final game of the 2016 season in the NCAA Tournament and she played every game as the only goalkeeper.
“It was awesome. I was really looking forward to it knowing it was going to be a lot of playing time. You always want to get minutes in a game,” Seabert said. “I was very thankful I was the only one, but at the same time it was pretty hard on my body like everyone’s bodies. We tried to manage our bodies and injuries as well as we could.”
USA lost its first game to South Korea, 3-0, but bounced back to beat host team Chinese Taipei, 2-1, in front of a home crowd of roughly 3,000. They went on to beat Argentina, 1-0, to win Pool A, but were edged in the quarterfinals by South Africa, 1-0. In consolation, the U.S. beat Mexico, 5-2, and South Korea, 3-1, to finish in fifth place.
"All of these ladies are remarkable soccer players, but more importantly ... remarkable women of character that shine the Pepperdine light whereever they go," said Pepperdine women's soccer coach Tim Ward. "This opportunity that they earned and were given ... it's a memory of a lifetime. I know they are all incredibly grateful for the chance to compete for their respective countries."
Men’s water polo went 4-2-1 during the two weeks to finish ninth. After dropping the first game to Japan, 9-8, USA Team took down Romania, 12-6, and tied Russia, 11-11 before losing to Italy, 12-9, in the Round of 16. While the Top 8 went on to compete in the quarterfinals, USA topped Romania again, 13-10, and Australia, 8-4, to set up a ninth-place game against Canada. Asic started and scored twice in an 18-8 win over Canada. He also scored in the tie against Russia, who went on to finish runner-up to Serbia. Italy was third.
Asic, a native of Laguna Niguel, said the difference in playing styles was noticeable from country to country.
“Japan was the hardest game of water polo I’ve ever played in my life,” he said.
Outside of competition, the athletes were able to do some sightseeing. Asic said the night market was one of his favorite spots, as well as taking a trip on what was, until recently, the world’s fastest elevator (89 floors in 35 seconds) to the observation deck at skyscraper Taipei 101.
“The view was spectacular up there … I’m going to remember that memory for a while,” Asic said. “Taiwan really surprised me. The country is so beautiful. Everything was so green and really modern.”
“The people in Taiwan are amazing. Their hospitality and everyone I met was so kind,” Baisden said. “They honestly just treated us so well everywhere we went. It was really nice feeling safe in a country I’d never been to before.”
The schedule also allowed for athletes to watch and support other USA teams during the week, but women’s soccer and men’s water polo never had the chance to watch each other. All three athletes wrapped up the games by seeing USA women’s water polo win gold on Aug. 29.
Now back in the U.S., Asic returned to Pepperdine in time to travel to Harvard and Providence this past weekend for the Waves’ men’s water polo season opener.
Baisden, who split time at forward and right wing during the tournament, said she felt prepared for the competition after playing three months this spring for a team in Sweden, where she played all 90 minutes in 13 games, scoring 15 goals. She plans to train the next few months to prepare for open tryouts this winter to earn a spot on another international roster. Seabert has been serving as a third-string goalkeeper for Orlando Pride, which is currently in third place in the National Women’s Soccer League. She rejoined the Pride over the weekend.