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Monday, May 27
The Indiana Daily Student

sports water polo

From club sport to team with national credentials, water polo shines at IU

The IU water polo team practices Feb. 28 at the Counsilman/Billingsley Aquatic Center.

Barry King came to IU in fall 1993 to begin work on his doctorate in exercise physiology.
Now, he is coaching his 12th season for the water polo team – coaching every season of the program’s existence.

When he arrived at IU, King’s first experience came with IU water polo was as a player and coach for the men’s club, which was the only IU water polo club at the time. The men’s club had a call-out meeting for players and was also was in need of assistant coaches. King filled in.

Three women – Maryann Lekas, Amy Pankoke and Natasha Kuberski – came together in spring 1994 to form the women’s water polo club.

Lekas said the process of starting the club team was hilarious but challenging because they had to fill out the team by recruiting women who had never played water polo.
“It was hard to get these other girls who were used to being pristine swimmers to be aggressive and tough for water polo,” Lekas said.

A committee was formed in late 1996 to pick a new women’s varsity sport. Mary Ann Rohleder, senior associate athletic director, was on the committee and said it first had to decide whether IU needed to add a women’s sport.

“Number one, should we add sports – and secondly, if so, what sports should we look at?” Rohleder said. “Then, the end result of our work, we were supposed to make a recommendation to the athletics committee and athletic director.”

Four club teams were picked to give presentations to the committee and lobby to become a varsity sport. The committee chose the women’s water polo club.

King said he was notified in February 1997 that water polo was going to become a varsity sport for the following year.

Rohleder said the committee decided that water polo was the best choice because of the facilities, competition and recruiting base with which it had to work.

The decision to add water polo was highly favored because of how well it met the criteria and because Michigan said it would also add the sport, said Director of Football Operations Harold Mauro, who was also on the committee.

Although club sports do not often become varsity programs, King said the quick four-year turnaround it took for water polo to become a full IU team was even more rare.

“That’s quick, for the most part,” King said. “Take the men’s soccer team, for instance. Coach (Jerry) Yeagley had them for a club team for 10 years previous to being added in ’72.”

The first varsity season was much different from being a club team, Lekas said. Travel plans changed and more demand was put on players, but she said it was an excellent experience.

“It was amazing,” Lekas said. “We felt like rock stars. We would go train at Assembly Hall. We went from rags to riches.”

The program continued to grow until it reached its highest point in 2003, when it made the NCAA  Final Four. King said that entire season was very special.

“That season in total was important for us from the standpoint that we learned that Indiana wasn’t just some fluke thing that happened in the Midwest,” King said. “We had the ability to create some pretty good players and compete on a national level.”

Although the team has not reached the NCAA Tournament since, it has become a perennial top 20 program and consistently tallies 20 wins. The team (12-12) is currently ranked No. 18.

While King strayed from his original intentions, he said he’s happy about his place at IU today.

“If you would have told me 16 years ago that this is what I would be doing, I would have laughed, heartily,” King said. “I wouldn’t trade the experience at all.”

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