Almost by accident, Christina Williamson PO ’17 had two key experiences during her first year at Pomona College that would end up shaping the next part of her life.
One was playing innertube water polo, which put her in contact with women on the Pomona-Pitzer women’s water polo team. That encounter led to four years of competitive NCAA play — and the desire for a post-college career related to athletics.
“It really was a fun team to be a part of, a great coaching staff,” Williamson reminisced. Years later, she still live streams P-P water polo games to check up on her old team.
The other was hearing from a speaker during a math seminar about the power of analytics in sports. Tracking data, Williamson quickly learned, could help improve athletes’ performances.
Williamson, now 24, took that lesson and ran with it, landing a job out of college working in a very different sport: baseball. For more than two years, she’s tracked analytics and delved into performance science for the New York Yankees, and is now based in Tampa.
The former P-P water polo player — also a lifelong swimmer who competed for the Sagehen swim and dive team — was in August named by The Athletic one of its 35 under 35 up-and-coming talents in the baseball world and described as “essential to the Yankees.”
But she felt a bit like a fish out of water when she first arrived on the job without a background on the diamond.
“I knew it was going to challenge me; I knew it was going to get me out of my comfort zone,” Williamson said. “I always liked to be competitive, to be active, to be part of a team. So obviously in my role now, it’s a different side of that, rather than being an athlete. But you still feel like you’re part of a team that is working toward a common goal.”
She doesn’t need a baseball or softball pedigree for her job, which entails analyzing players’ workout and performance data and finding areas where changes to conditioning or routine could mitigate injury risk. Then, she helps communicate those results to coaches.
In fact, she said her unique background could actually be a plus.
“Having to have learned that from scratch and not coming in with preconceived notions, it might have played a role, certainly, in kind of the way that I approach my position,” she said.
In a data-driven, analytics-heavy sport like baseball, clubs are always trying to gain a competitive edge over each other, so Williamson declined to share specific findings or improvements she’s analyzed. Essentially, though, she’s helping the Yankees get “the most out of each athlete’s bodies and abilities.”
It’s a topic of particular interest to Williamson, given her own athletic background — which included her fair share of injuries, according to P-P water polo coach Alex Rodriguez.
“We were in a tournament at [Loyola Marymount University] and she refused to sub out of the game because her shoulder was hurting,” Rodriguez recalled in an email. “She didn’t want to let her teammates down and she wanted to win the game.”
That memory embodies Williamson’s career at Pomona-Pitzer, where she was a gritty, clutch athlete and captain of the water polo team.
Rodriguez remembered when she was just a first-year and new to the sport, she came off the bench during the SCIAC championship game with the team down 2-0 and gave the Hens a much-needed lift, scoring two goals that propelled them to victory.
As a senior, she led the team to another SCIAC title and an NCAA Tournament first-round berth. Williamson won SCIAC Athlete of the Year and was named 2017 Division III Player of the Year by the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches.
“I am not sure we have ever seen someone like her here at Pomona-Pitzer,” Rodriguez said. “She was so mature, enjoyed learning and pushing herself to train harder. She had all the respect in the world from her teammates and coaches.”
What Williamson most appreciated about Pomona, though, “was that education always came first, but not at the expense at being competitive in sports. That was still important, but being able to attend class — that was all first.”
So what advice does Williamson have for current 5C students, whether in class or in the pool?
Keep an open mind.
“You never know what could end up panning out,” she said. “I never thought that I would be in the position that I’m in now.”