To be a successful college water polo program in any state besides California is an
Most of the high school players come from the Golden State, giving the area schools an edge when attracting talent.
But IU Coach Barry King has overcome the geographical challenges to build one of the nation’s best programs.
“There are more high schools in California that play water polo than the rest of the country put together,” IU Coach Barry King said.
The IU water polo team (22-5) is one of 10 teams to quality for the NCAA tournament. The Hoosiers, the tournament’s No. 8 seed, will play No. 9 seed Wagner (25-11) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The match will be held at Counsilman Billingsley Aquatic Center.
Of the 10 teams in the NCAA tournament, seven teams are from California. IU and Wagner, located in Staten Island, N.Y., are the only schools located east of the Mississippi River who are in the NCAA tournament.
For the water polo NCAA tournament, six teams receive byes to the championships taking place in Los Angeles. The next two teams are determined through play-in games.
IU and Wagner are playing in one of the play-in games. No. 7 seed University of California San Diego plays No. 10 seed Pomona-Pitzer in the other play-in game. Both of the winners go to Los Angeles for the water polo championships.
Most college water polo players come from California. That’s where the dominant high school programs are, King said. Eleven of the 23 players on IU are from California, as well as Coach Barry King.
“It’s just their culture,” sophomore goalkeeper Jessica Gaudreault said. “I’m from Canada and hockey is a big thing. It’s the same thing for California with water polo.”
If IU beats Wagner, the Hoosiers move onto the water polo championships in Los Angeles to play No. 1 seed Stanford (22-1).
IU played another California water polo juggernaut earlier this season — USC — and hung tough at the end of the first quarter, trailing just 4-3. But the depth of USC was too much for the Hoosiers to handle as IU fell to the then-No. 1 Trojans 15-5.
This is the kind of depth the Hoosiers will face in Los Angeles for the championships if they defeat Wagner.
“We’re probably not as deep as a Stanford, USC or a UCLA,” King said. “(USC’s) depth versus our depth showed itself in the second half.”
The team is realistic about their chances of winning a national title. Both Gaudreault and junior utility player Shelby Taylor said the team would be satisfied with a fifth place finish.
Their coach, King, doesn’t view winning a national title vital to defining their season as successful or not.
“Our goal has never been ‘We want to win this title or that title,’” King said. “Our goal all season has always been: be the best team we could be, all the time.”