Members of UR Club Water Polo come in with an array of experience levels—a few played the sport competitively in high school, others merely have swimming backgrounds.
Still yet, there are players who have joined with little history in either respect.
“I never played water polo before coming to the U of R. I ran in high school, but wanted to try something new and more team related, so I picked water polo, ” said sophomore Naomi Hollo.
Sophomore Brandon Merkert’s decision to join came under different circumstances.
“I was a transfer student, so it was harder to make friends than just meeting everyone in my freshman hall and branching out to new people. Going to water polo practice gave me the chance to make friends with similar interests,” he said.
The team is also co-ed, and players agree that this aspect brings them closer together.
“In high school, I played on a female water polo team, and I prefer co-ed,” Club President Sophie Werk said. “Being co-ed allows us to break down stereotypes that male players are stronger or more aggressive. Based on my experience, I think there is more respect in the pool. However that could just be because players here are older and more mature.”
Merket spoke similarly, emphasizing that being a co-ed team leads to cohesion.
“When we play games, our entire team wins or loses rather than the guys or the girls team individually winning or losing,” he said.
These cohesive experiences underline the club’s core principle of inclusivity.
“I think a special part of UR Water Polo is the fact that there are no cuts. Absolutely anyone can join no matter who they are or what their gender is,” Werk said.
Since players often join with little or no experience, the onus is on veteran members to mentor new players, such as sophomore Noah Pollack.“With help from some of my awesome teammates and some of the members of the Rochester Men’s team that join us every once in awhile, I quickly fell in love with this sport,” he said. “It may seem a little daunting at first, but once you get the basics down, the practice that once felt like an actual practice turns into an hour and a half of fun with a bunch of friends.”
In general, the rules of water polo are similar to those of sports such as soccer, hockey, and handball. The two teams look to throw the ball, which floats on the water, into the opponent goal. Each team has six field players plus a goalie in the pool at one time. Players traverse the pool using a form of treading water known as the “eggbeater kick,” and can only catch and throw the ball with one hand at a time.
“Learning to play has been extremely rewarding but really difficult since water polo requires many actions simultaneously,” Hollo said. “It’s been difficult learning to tread eggbeater as well as watching for the ball and then catching the ball.”
In addition to the dexterity required to perform such a balancing act, contact is another key part of water polo. The proximity that it entails can also translate to close bonds between teammates.
“Because it is a contact sport, we are always physically close to each other, which makes it easier to become friends. Now we spend time with each other in and out of the pool,” Merkert said.
This contact, combined with the co-ed element, has the potential to make things awkward, but that hasn’t been the experience for anyone on the team, in Pollack’s eyes.
“Although water polo is considered a contact sport, nobody feels uncomfortable or the need to back down when they’re guarding someone of the opposite gender,” he said.
The club has grown significantly since its inception three years ago. It started with a handful of players, grew to around 15-20 last year, and currently sits at about 25-30 members. The club is looking to grow in competitive scope as well as size. Last year, it connected with University at Buffalo and is now invited to the school’s annual tournament in April.
The ultimate goal for the club is to join a collegiate water polo league. For this to happen, there must be an infrastructure for both home and away games. The club is working toward obtaining regulation equipment so it can be hosts, but the biggest obstacle it faces is covering travel expenses.
In the meantime, the players will deal with their intermediate goals.
“Moving forward, the club wants to continue to grow and improve to become better opponents in tournaments and better recognized among the collegiate water polo community.” Werk said.
The team progressed toward this goal on Saturday by participating in a tournament in nearby Webster, where the members played five games combined against SUNY Adirondack and University at Buffalo.