Club Water Polo Seeks Comeback Following Hiatus
If one were to google “Oberlin College Water Polo,” a website would appear that some Oberlin students may not know had ever existed. The page, proudly sporting a copyright from 2005 at the bottom, represents a relic of the former glory of the Yeomen and Yeowomen’s water polo program.
“There was a time in Oberlin’s history where we hosted Club Water Polo Nationals. … And then, for some reason that we still can’t figure out, the team just started to fall apart,” said junior Tadhg Young, a captain of the up-and-coming club water polo team this year, alongside junior captain Victor Lau. They want to bring back the glory their team once held at Oberlin. To do that, they are willing to work their way from the bottom up.
Young and Lau were central in initiating water polo’s resurgence two years ago, with Lau as captain and Young as treasurer. They encountered difficulties early on when one of the team’s two captains left the school, but Young says the small team’s resolve remained strong.
“Luckily we still had Victor, and we still had a lot of interest in the group, and so we decided that we were just going to go ahead with it,” he said.
Progress was slow, but the wheels really started turning for the team in the 2014-2015 school year.
“The team started getting our budget together, started actually having water polo representation at club sports, and we really reached out and had our first booth down at the club sports fair,” Young said.
The tradition of the energetic bunch showing up to the club sports fair clad in Speedos and confidence started at the fair last year; the team tried to gain as much attention and notability as possible right off the bat.
The team did gain the attention of members of the Oberlin varsity swim team, which Young and Lau claim have critically bolstered the team’s roster during the swim team’s off-season.
Experienced swimmers weren’t the only additions to the team’s small roster, though, as the now-captains cited many recruits as being total newcomers to the sport but very excited to learn.
“That has been our favorite part of practice — the enthusiasm of new players,” Young said. “That’s what club sports is about: being able to try things in a low-stress environment and not feeling like you’re floundering in any way.”
Sophomore Lukas Gnirke was one of these eager beginners last year, joining with more experience in swimming than water polo.
“I swam in high school, and I had played a little bit of water polo, only by fooling around with the ball on my swim team,” he said.
Last year, the team practiced once a week with a roster of eight to nine players. This year they are trying to create a more competitive environment with biweekly practices in hopes of entering into tournaments.
However, the team’s fall season is the less competitive of the two, as it is reserved for training novice members. The swim team is in its competitive season and is unable to lend support to water polo’s roster.
“We definitely put a backburner on fall season, so that in spring season we can be a bit more competitive — we get our swimmers back, and we can hold more in-depth practices, focusing on strategy more than fundamentals,” Young said. This year, Young and Lau are teaching seven new players.
The captains are continuously trying to increase the team’s size and accessibility, ensuring that they’re approachable to new players and encouraging friends to spread news about the team’s activities through word of mouth. They said that they also plan on making posters and throwing some water polo parties, similar to other parties thrown by varsity and more established club teams.
Young and Lau’s welcoming personalities and fun practices are what attracted Gnirke in the first place.
“It’s really fun, the people on [the team] are super cool, and it’s a great workout,” he said.
Despite publicity efforts, the team is still encountering issues with a lack of familiarity concerning what exactly goes on during a water polo match. The sport is not particularly popular inthe U.S. in comparison with staple sports such as soccer or football, and it requires a pool, which is not as readily available an environment as a field.
Pool availability presents another problem, especially in the spring of 2015, as the Carr Pool will be renovated and therefore unavailable to everyone. The team has consulted Director of Recreation and Club Sports Betsy Bruce about the possibility of going to other facilities or recreational centers.
“The expense of that might be intense, but a dream is a dream,” Young said.
Since the beginning, the captains have continued to recruit members and raise awareness for the team. When it comes down to it, that seems to be a shared experience among club sports.
“We just want people, we just want bodies, we just want interest and enthusiasm for our club,” Young said, continuing that a dream of theirs is returning to Oberlin after graduating and seeing a full-fledged and healthy water polo program, much like the club’s 2005 glory days.