Water polo weekend

April 26th, 2012

Jumping in a freezing cold pool at 8:30 in the morning is not what a lot of college students would call the most ideal way to start a Sunday. Those of us at Cleveland State University’s pool probably would rather have been sleeping, but the prospect of playing some water polo helped us crawl from our warm beds that day.

Our JCU club water polo team competed in its first-ever tournament this past weekend at CSU. Many of us had played water polo for our high school or other club teams, so this was a fun way to get back into the sport.

Water polo is played with six field players on each side and a goalie. Only the goalie can hold the big, yellow polo ball with two hands; or touch the side or bottom of the pool. Everyone else has to throw and catch with one hand, and tread water for the entire game. In our case, we played 7-minute quarters, so our legs got a nice workout.

The refs hand out various penalties and fouls based on the action in the pool, and it can get physical. On the Olympic level, sports columnist Pat Forde once wrote, “The officials can’t call what they can’t see, and what they can’t see is enough to make a Marine cringe … Once the ball is in play, these Olympians are as physical as boxers, wrestlers and martial artists. Except they’re doing it while treading water. Try mugging someone while working furiously to keep your head above the surface.”

Luckily, I only walked out of the pool this weekend with a scratch on my arm. But I’ve seen and experienced worse: elbows to the face, bloody cuts across the chest and “uninvited prostate checkups,” as Forde calls them. Ouch.

I forgot how much swimming was involved in the sport, and – after nearly four years out – I was not in the best swimming shape. But I still had fun, and scored a goal in our third game.

Our team started practicing right after Spring Break, and we looked like we could make some noise this weekend. But the tournament didn’t start out the way we planned when we lost to both Cleveland Water Polo Club and the University of Dayton on Saturday.

Out of four games, our only victory was in our third contest against Ohio Northern University on Sunday morning. The Polar Bears were no match for the Blue Streaks that day, as JCU posted a 14-8 win. What a sweet, sweet victory.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish the tournament in quite the fashion we wanted, as The University of Akron put us in an early hole that we couldn’t climb out of. Because we were a smaller team, we couldn’t substitute fresh players as much as they could.

Despite our 1-3 record, there were lots of positives. Essentially, since we beat the only Ohio Athletic Conference team in the tournament field (Ohio Northern), we are the conference’s water polo champions. OAC, we’re expecting our trophy in the mail soon.

I also look forward to practicing again. It feels good to be back treading water and throwing the ball around. Playing water polo for a couple of hours every week is a nice break from the usual study, sleep and newspaper cycle that takes up my time these days.

Given the choice that Sunday morning again between staying in my toasty bed and jumping in a cold pool to play water polo, I would still pick the latter.

Bring on the competition.