Exchange Student Making a Splash


Julia Sawin, Assistant News Editor

Lillian Gunther, a junior at Tracy High School is leaving her mark on the girls water polo team. As she propels her body through the water, lunging to the left and right, her stats prove that she’s a force to be reckoned with.

Gunther, a German exchange student, came to Tracy in August of 2021 and immediately joined the water polo team.

“She’s the perfect fit for both my friends and my family. We all feel like we have known her our whole lives,” said Makenna Martinez, her host sister.

At the age of eight Gunther literally got her feet wet when she sparked an interest in an after-school water polo club that was held once a week. Here she learned how to swim and the fundamental skills of water polo. Later she asked to try out for a competitive team and has been playing competitive water polo ever since.

Gunther has always known she wanted to be an exchange student from a young age. Her mom was also an exchange student in America and loved her experience. Gunther’s mom built many connections that she keeps in contact with today.

Makenna Martinez (left) and her friend Brianna Lapena (right) welcome Lillian Gunther (middle) to California.

“I wanted to build something like that for myself,” Gunther adds.

She is living with junior, Makenna Martinez and her family; their first time hosting an exchange student. Martinez is also a member of the Tracy High water polo team and has quickly formed a special bond with Gunther.

“I felt like having a foreign exchange student has been like having a sister,”  Martinez said.

Gunther lived north of Hamburg, Germany. Her daily life there was not very different from her daily life here in Tracy. She practiced water polo four or five times a week. She practiced with both her boys’ and girls’ team, went to school, and hung out with her friends. Although there were similarities Gunther did point out some differences.

“School in America is a whole different system,” she stated. “I was really not use to the amount of homework the teachers give here,” she added.

In Germany, there were shorter school days and less work. Gunther said that although the language is hard, she likes the way the classes are structured.

It became obvious that she had an insane work ethic, which led to her success in water polo.

Martinez noted, “Lilly is one of the most motivated students I have ever met.  Everything she does is done 110%.”

Lilly also brings other great qualities to the team as well.

“Lilly’s insane drive, leadership skills and positive attitude has been beneficial to our team both in and outside of the pool,” Martinez added.

Last year Gunther had the honor to be apart of the national team in Germany. Unfortunately, she didn’t get to have the full experience because of COVID, but she is grateful for the opportunity.

Melanie Couch, a junior girls water polo teammate, has learned from Gunther.

“Personally, she has taught me to not be too hard on ourselves and that it is ok to make mistakes because we learn from them,” Couch added.

Other things Gunther contributes to the team are sharing techniques and plays she has learned from water polo in Germany. These skills have taught the team to become more adaptive.  Even with their intense competitive environment the team can have fun.

“Sometimes Lilly will yell something or talk, but she doesn’t know the English word for it, so she just guesses,” Couch said.

Everyone will just start laughing.

She may have only been here for a couple months, but she has already made some unforgettable memories. She says her favorite memories so far have been the bus rides to the tournament with all her friends and they sing karaoke all the way there.

“It was pretty fun,” Gunther remarked.

Gunther’s time in Tracy is unfortunately limited to the end of the school year. However, Gunther has thought about staying in America to attend the University in California and play water polo into college.

She continues to keep in contact with her family and friends back home. According to Gunther she misses them a lot.

Gunther is looking forward to experiencing American high school activities such as Homecoming and Prom with her new friends. Whatever path Gunther takes in the future, she has the support of her new American family.