Kaitlynn Pierceall woke up around 9 a.m. Saturday morning while on a weekend trip to Big Bear Lake with her sorority sisters. She got overheated in her bed that morning because her group felt it was necessary to keep a space heater running all night. So, she decided to get up, turn off the heater, and start her day.
She headed upstairs from the isolated basement bedroom she shared with three others and discovered that the kitchen, dining room, and living room of the Airbnb cabin was littered with garbage left behind by her sorority sisters and some of their guests. She was shocked to discover the mess left behind because she recalled the night before that a member of her sorority, Blake Serikova, warned the group to keep the cabin clean to avoid any potential wrath from their Airbnb hosts.
Pierceall found small piles of empty beer cans and half-empty bags of tortilla chips in the living room, saw remnants of bowls caked with shrimp pasta in the dining room, and deduced what appeared to be beer bomb shots in pint glasses scattered around the kitchen. Pierceall could have left the area how it was for others to take care of. The mess wasn’t her responsibility—she went to bed downstairs before the party got too hectic—and she even made sure to clean up whatever snacks she had while finishing up her calculus homework earlier that night.
Even though she was upset by the mess left behind, she made a promise to her sorority sisters. So, before anyone in the house awoke from their alcohol-induced sleep, Kaitlynn started cleaning the cabin.
Moments like these, when Pierceall feels the urge to help others and take charge, is a defining characteristic of her character and a trait that allows her to be a leader in not only social events, but also in her athletic career.
Kaitlynn Pierceall, 19, is a sophomore student-athlete at the University of Redlands. She is a second-year attacker on the university’s women’s water polo team. The 5-foot-4-inch woman may not be one of the taller players on her team, but with a strong upper body, great defensive instincts, and high intelligence, she is a tough player to play against in the pool.
“I can read a play really well, see where [the opponent] is thinking of throwing the ball. I’m analytical, so I feel defense is better for me,” Pierceall said. “It’s always something different—every game is different—every practice is different—you’re always learning something.”
No longer challenged by past youth sports, Pierceall’s mother encouraged her to try water polo entering high school.
“I played softball and basketball growing up, but I was kind of done with it,” Pierceall said. “So, my mom told me ‘Try water polo. You need to do a sport in high school, you’ll have a good time, and meet new friends.’ I knew some of the girls on the team and I fell in love with the sport.”
Not satisfied with only a four-year relationship with her newfound passion at Beaumont High School, Pierceall continued her water polo career at the nearby University of Redlands.
“I chose Redlands because I loved the idea that the school was so small and had a really close community. When I came to visit, I knew this was where I belong,” Pierceall said. “I still felt like I had a lot to learn…so I wanted to push myself. I’ve always been athletic, so I think if I would’ve quit, I would’ve regretted it.”
Arriving on campus during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Pierceall and her teammates faced unique challenges in order to prepare for and compete in their Spring 2021 season.
“It was very interesting getting tested four times a week and filling out the [COVID symptom] checklist all the time. If I said I had a cough or a runny nose, I couldn’t come to practice,” Pierceall said. “Even just the idea of having only six games—not really having enough time to prepare for the season—not getting in a normal amount of conditioning—and having weight workouts in the middle of the season was definitely challenging.”
Despite the challenges her team faced, the spring 2021 semester proved to have some memorable moments for the then first-year attacker.
“[I remember] my very first goal, everyone was so happy, so thrilled,” Pierceall said. “It was my first game against Chapman [University]. I finally got the confidence to shoot from my teammates. I shot it towards the high corner, and the goalie wasn’t paying enough attention, probably thinking I wasn’t going to shoot. [When it went in] it was a lot of fun watching everyone get so happy and so excited.”
When she wasn’t in the pool with her teammates, Pierceall found herself involved in a whole new endeavor which she thought at first was way outside her comfort zone, joining a sorority on campus.
“I never would’ve thought in a million years I would join a sorority,” Pierceall said. “Some water polo girls said that sororities are a great way to meet people and it really was. I met so many people that I now see around campus.”
Samantha Wells, current president of the Alpha Sigma Pi sorority at the University of Redlands, knew even during an online rush event that Pierceall was special.
“My first impression was that she seemed like such a strong, confident person,” Wells said. “My favorite part about her personality is that she is incredibly reliable—she’s always there for me and anyone in our organization.”
Pierceall, in only her second semester with Alpha Sigma Pi, is already taking a leadership role. During the fall semester she held the at-large and intramural sports chair positions. She was also recently elected as vice president for the spring semester.
Being vice president is fine for the moment, but she has higher aspirations once she is an upperclassman next fall.
“I definitely think [being president of Alpha Sigma Pi] is something I’m interested in for the future. I consider myself a leader, so I definitely think eventually that would be fun.”
Being a leader is something Pierceall strives for and something she considers to be a vital part of her character.
“I’m not really a follower in any aspect, I have a strong personality and I like to set an example [for others] by working my hardest. I think it’s important to push your teammates in a way that they’ll respect you and you’ll respect them. Even if I’m not a captain, I try to give 100% at every practice,” Pierceall said.
Anika Lundbaek, a first-year attacker for the water polo team, already feels Pierceall’s leadership positively radiating throughout the team.
“When I first met Kaitie, she took me under her wing almost immediately,” Lundbaek said. “She was just this bundle of positivity and that really impacted how I felt being a new player on the team…
“As a leader, Kaitie just wants to help as many people as she can. Even if I’m asking the stupidest question ever and feel embarrassed, KP knows how to make me feel like every question I’m asking her is valid and important,” Lundbaek added.
Pierceall takes a lot of pride in being a leader and a good teammate. For a team sport like water polo, Pierceall believes good communication and a positive mental attitude are keys to success.
“My parents always emphasized the idea that everyone has a good side—everyone has their weaknesses, but we shouldn’t focus on those—and deep down, everyone has good intentions at heart. I like to see the better part of people,” Pierceall said.
Kaitlynn Pierceall is a leader, plain and simple. Whether it is in her sorority or in the pool, Pierceall wants her legacy to be that she always cared for others and that she always gave everything all she had.
“I want to be someone people can lean on. It would be nice to break a record, but I want to be a person who cares about the team and the university,” Pierceall said. “I want teammates to say ‘KP, we loved her. She was a great person, she always cared.’”