Water polo gains popularity, grows as a club sport

Alyssa Fairbanks

The water polo team in the poolWater polo, an under-the-radar club sport at Whitman College, is making a splash as it grows in popularity. This season the club has nearly 30 students signed up to play, practicing every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at Paul Harvey Pool. The team is made up of a diverse group: seasoned players and beginners, swimmers and non-swimmers. Ned Morris, a local veteran water polo player, primarily coaches the club sport.

To make it on the team one needs only basic swimming skills, as players are not allowed to touch the bottom of the pool and must move around through the water. Assistant Coach Jamie Kennedy said, “The water polo club is structured for people of all skill levels. Good hand eye coordination is important in order to combine swimming with catching, throwing and shooting.”

For those unfamiliar with the sport, Kennedy describes it as being “similar to aquatic basketball with a hint of soccer.   The offense and defense tend to function similarly to basketball, but there is also a goalie.”

“[Water polo] combines physical contact with strategy and planning. Regardless of which of those you’re better at, there is a place for you in the sport,” said senior Austen Stutsman who has played water polo for eight years now.

According to Stutsman, this universal appeal has helped the popularity of water polo grow in the past four years she has been here.  Stutsman also sees water polo as a way to release pent-up energy: “I personally think it is a great stress reliever. Seriously, how many other sports do you get to shove, kick and hit other people and it’s legal?”

As more people hear about water polo, Stutsman hopes they will either play themselves or recruit their friends.

“The name is out there now so people who have already played, like in high school, can continue to play. This year for example, we have had almost 22 people at practice. That’s a huge improvement in numbers,” she said.

Junior water polo player Kevin McCoy agrees that the popularity of the game is growing.

“We’ve got a ton of people out for every practice at all skill levels, and I hope that will translate into lots of fans when we host some games,” he said.  The players say water polo is a great way to stay in shape, especially for the swimmers that play after swim season is over.

Swimmers have certain advantages and disadvantages when playing polo. McCoy, a swimmer, said, “Swimming certainly gives you an advantage, but by no means replaces skill and experience. It helps to get up and down the pool, to be in shape enough to give full effort the whole time you’re in the pool.”  Often swimmers who have never played find it difficult to transition between sports.

“Swimmers have to get used to swimming without goggles, keeping their head out of the water to see action and dealing with the physical contact. I’ve heard it said actually that people with a soccer background make great players because the games are actually fairly similar strategy-wise,” said Stutsman.

For experienced players or beginners, the water polo club is becoming increasingly popular, due in part to recruitment techniques. “Normally I remind people that they get to hit other people: that’s a good recruiting tactic. Plus, the pool is a GREAT place for ‘That’s what he/she said jokes!'” said Stutsman.

While not yet set in stone, the club hopes to participate in a spring tournament and host a tournament here at Whitman this season.