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Saturday, Dec. 2
The Indiana Daily Student

sports water polo

Water polo grueling on players


The whistle blew and a ref threw the ball to the middle of the pool. Swimming strongly, the water polo players churned the water as they dashed for the ball.

Wrestling, kicking and swimming back and forth across the 25-meter long pool, IU’s women’s water polo team gets no breaks. They tread water and swim non-stop all throughout the 32-minute game. No holding the edge. No touching the bottom.

Saturday, the Hoosiers played Michigan, one of their biggest rivals. They won 12-5.

Rebecca Gerrity, junior utility — an all-purpose position, both defense and offense — said the team’s training prepares it for the physical challenges of the game.

“We build a lot of stamina up actually,” she said. “In the heat of the moment you don’t realize how tired you are because of the adrenaline you have going.”

The grueling nature of the sport — no pauses during games, the brutal physical battles between players and the unshakable time commitment — requires the Hoosiers practice three hours, six days a week.

The women of the IU water polo team sacrifice body and mind for a sport that demands dedication and sacrifice for players to stay competitive.

IU Coach Barry King said the difficulty of the sport can be hard to grasp by those who haven’t tried it. Aerobic demand and wrestling bouts occur on each end.

“It’s a wholly encompassed physical experience that not many people can relate to,” he said.

In water polo, players get only two-minute breaks between quarters. King said players compete for at least 25 minutes with no real rest.

“In every other American-ized sport, the whistle blows, we stop, we reset and then the action starts again,” King said. “Here the whistle blows and the most important action starts when the clock’s not running.”

Because of water polo’s physical nature, fouls are called often. It’s normal during a game for players to get bloody noses or have their caps pulled off.

But unlike football or basketball, fouls don’t stop the action. A whistle is blown, the players in error back off, all while play continues. In some cases, a player will shoot a penalty while the rest of the players from both teams swim to the other side to reset.

Practices, though long in duration, aren’t as physical. It’s time for honing skills.

“The game is a lot more violent than the practices,” Gerrity said. “It’s a lot easier to take the aggression out on the other team. It’s a very aggressive sport and it’s a good release of emotions sometimes.”

The team’s lengthy practices involve conditioning and weight training two days a week during the regular season.

“It’s pretty intense, and doesn’t change really much from the fall to spring,” Schroeder said. “Our weight carts generally get harder throughout the year.”

Sophomore goalkeeper Jessica Gaudreault said her position requires a great deal of leg conditioning, including reps with medicine balls and weight belts.

“It’s a lot of technical skill work, too,” Gaudreault said. “We all do hand-eye coordination drills pretty much twice a week.”

Amid juggling practices and training, school and a social life sometimes fall by the wayside. King said the hardest part of being a college athlete is time management.

“The better you are at it, the more resilient you are because you are finding those places where you get downtime or you’re making sure you’re eating correctly and re-hydrating,” King said. “We’re probably not terrific at it, but we’re not below average at it either.”

Time management is especially important for the team because most of its season is spent on the road. Samantha Dewig, the team’s sports information director, said water polo is meant to be an outdoor game.

“Technically, most of the time water polo is an outdoor sport, that’s why we go to warmer weather to play,” Dewig said. “There aren’t very many Midwest teams. So it makes a lot more sense for a Big Ten university who has a larger travel budget to go to the smaller California schools.”

Gerrity has been playing water polo since fourth grade and said being conditioned in time management her whole life helped her prepare for college.

“The social life can be lacking,” she said. “I’m premed so I do a lot more studying than the typical student. But it’s the life I’ve chosen. You make sacrifices for things you care about and water polo has been a really big part of my life, so it’s worth sacrificing for.”

Follow visual reporter Jennifer Sublette on Twitter @Jennysub.

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