“You can and you will.”

That’s what Tara Prentice’s mom told her daughter from the time she was a young girl learning water polo.

“It became my mantra,” says Prentice, 26, recently named center for the U.S. women’s water polo team going to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. “It gave me the foundation to dream big and to accomplish anything I set my mind to.”

It certainly worked at UC Irvine, where Prentice became the school’s all-time leading scorer while earning two master’s degrees.

And it helped her twice make the U.S. national team – the first time narrowly missing the cut for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where the women won a third consecutive gold medal.

“I wanted to be on that team so bad,” she says. “But there’s going to be success and failure along the way. You can’t be afraid of failure. You have to grow from it.”

She did. And now she’s ready to help this U.S. team accomplish a feat that’s never been done in either men’s or women’s water polo – win a fourth consecutive gold medal.

Proud to represent UCI

Ask Prentice about her strengths as a water polo player and you won’t hear mention of swimming technique or ball control or even being named Big West Player of the Year in 2022.

Instead, she starts talking about helping others.

“I’m driven by knowing I can be a good teammate or friend,” she says. “It’s not me trying to be the best because it’s cool to be the best. It’s me trying to be the best so I can make the team better.”

This attitude has made her one of the best women’s water polo players in the nation.

“She’s come back stronger and better than four years ago,” says Team USA coach Adam Krikorian, who has won 24 international titles since becoming head coach in 2009. “She’s put herself in a great position to help us win. I’m proud of her.”

“Irvine has never had a women’s water polo Olympian. I want people to look at our Olympic team and see that it has a UCI player.”

Tara Prentice

Prentice has a bit of pride, too.

“Irvine has never had a women’s water polo Olympian,” she says. “I want people to look at our Olympic team and see that it has a UCI player.”

‘Anything’s possible’

Prentice’s goal for the team: “Win an Olympic gold medal and continue the legacy of the team.”

But she doesn’t dream of putting the medal around her neck.

“I envision looking into the stands and seeing my parents – and sharing the moment with them.”

Her parents emigrated from Ireland to give their children better opportunities, and Prentice has used every chance to become a better athlete and a better person.

“What you have control of is the attitude you bring every day – the way you feel and the way you make other people feel,” she says. “That opens the door to ‘anything’s possible.’ ”

One of those possibilities is returning to Irvine to work at UCI someday.

“It’s my home away from home,” she says. “I want to be in an environment where I’m inspired every day, and I know I’ll have that in Irvine.”