Twelve teams competed in Rio, California in the pursuits to be called “National Champion” for the Division 1 Crown at the National Collegiate Water Ski Association, and out of those 12 teams, the Ragin’ Cajuns won their seventh Water Ski National Championship.
The Louisiana water ski team was first formed in 1988. Starting in 1995 was when they claimed their first national championship title, and they have been adding more titles to their resume from 1997, 2003, 2005, 2010 and 2015.
Head Coach Ryan Gonzales made a statement regarding his team and how he is proud of what they have accomplished.
“It’s obviously an absolutely great feeling for both of us, they have worked for this all season and for the past four years since winning in 2015,” Coach Gonzales said in statement to The Vermilion. “They trained really hard for this in the past month each knowing their part and exactly what they needed to do to accomplish it.”
As the team showed obvious success, there were also individual successes for a few Ragin’ Cajuns during the national championship.
Jaimee Bull set a pending National Collegiate Water Ski Association women’s salom record for winning that event two years in a row. With fellow Louisiana teammates, Bailey Austin placed third in the women’s salom and Griffin Stange was fifth in the men’s salom.
Edoardo Marenzi won the men’s tricks event and Conley Pinette received second overall in the men’s competition. Alice Bagnoli was second overall, as well as placing fifth in the women’s trick event. Marie-Lou Moulanier was third overall in women’s competition and fourth in the women’s jump event.
Marylou Major placed third in the women’s jump event with Carlo Basic and Luca Rauchenwald placing third and fifth.
Gonzales said he believes his team did well during the season, adding he was satisfied with the support of the team with each other and how the leaders of the team took initiative to improve practices.
“Not much, they are a family, they have each other back and really support each other,” Gonzales said in a statement to The Vermilion. “The team captain Harry Spavin has done a tremendous job lining up a practice and training program that keeps each skier focused on their individual role to do what they need to do to win.”
Even though the national championship is a huge feat for the water ski team, what makes this team unique is that 22 members of the water ski team are from nine countries. The nine countries encompass England, Canada, Italy, Austria, France, Germany, Australia, the U.S. and Sweden.
For most coaches it would be a challenge to be able to break the barrier with a team that is from a variety of cultures and backgrounds, but Gonzales has become comfortable with the differences and even takes it upon himself to expose them to the Ragin’ Cajun culture with teaching them to cook gumbo and boil crawfish.
Gonzales, who’s worked with the teams for almost ten years, described how he grew to understand the players’ differences as individuals.
Gonzales said in a statement to The Vermilion: “I treat them as individuals with no expectations of them being different, because they are all different. Working in The Veterans Services office, being a veteran myself, and again having done this for almost ten years, I am quite accustomed to being around multi-cultural populations.
“These skiers come here well prepared to ski at the highest level. They train and coach each other, as well as counsel each other when they don't do as well as they may have wanted to. For the most part, I set expectations of how to be a ‘Ragin' Cajun.’ I let them know that being a highly successful team in the public eye, we are expected to act as champions at all times.”
As the team relishes in this victory, Gonzales is proud to say that his team has a family foundation surrounded by support that is not dependent upon winning or losing.
“Watching them support each other in their small success as they set and reached individual goals. I can not say enough that this team of students from all corners of the globe is truly a family,” Gonzales said in a statement to The Vermilion. “Having the opportunity to see this continue year after year and become part of the team culture makes all the hard work worth it, even if we don't win.”
Even though winning or losing may not be the ultimate focus of the team, this Louisiana team is already focusing on their future. Their future includes a personal goal for a back-to-back championship, possibly being the first in the school's history and a desire to relieve the stress of lacking some of the athletic resources needed for their future success.
“We would like to see an improved facility to make the skier more comfortable while they are at the lake so they can stay there and study,” Coach Gonzales said in a statement to The Vermilion. “Having a small budget, we have learned to do more with less, but having more resources makes us more attractive to new recruits, which would make us able to win more often.
“We would also like to eventually gain access to the athletic training facility to help our athletes get healthier faster when recovering from their injuries. This is key to our success. We currently rely on help from an alumni physical therapist. Knowing that we have the resources here on campus and not having access because we are not NCAA is very frustrating and hard to explain to the team and their parents, especially when we are performing at the levels we are.”