Where King has struggled is in terms of respect. IU and water polo aren’t a pair people typically associate with one another, King said.
A look around IU’s facility will tell you that. Water polo is a sport typically played outside, making it more popular in states like California. But because of Indiana’s climate, the Hoosiers are forced inside.
Not many kids grow up playing water polo in Indiana. Of the 21 players on IU’s roster, none are from Indiana.
IU pulls most of its players from California, including nine on this year’s team.
This means trying to draw players away from the many options they have in California to play in the Midwest, which isn’t as hard as it may seem, King said.
“The California kids haven’t ever seen anything like Indiana before,” King said. “By that I mean the campus and IU because no college towns exist anymore ?in California.”
King said once he gets players on campus, the rest takes care of itself, as he sees their eyes grow wide with possibilities of what may come in the next four years.
When King first started the program nearly two decades ago, it wasn’t always easy to get players to visit IU. Oftentimes he was looked at funny by recruits when he said he wanted them to travel to the Midwest to play water polo.
The perception has changed some through the years. IU has become recognizable in the water polo community as a successful program, he said.
Two players King successfully recruited from California are senior utility Rebecca Gerrity and attacker Colleen McNaught. They both recognize the way IU is viewed in the national landscape.
Gerrity said IU will remain an underdog in the eyes of more esteemed programs on the West Coast, no matter how successful they may be. Winning’s more fun that way, she said.
McNaught said IU will eternally be the underdog. It’s the nature of being a Hoosier and is not something she has a problem with, it’s something she accepts.
“It’s nice to be the underdog because there’s always something to prove,” McNaught said. “So every time we beat a team that doesn’t expect us to beat them, it makes it that much sweeter.”
It’s not as if IU doesn’t have the success to garner respect.
In the pool, IU has appeared in six national championships, including a seventh-place finish last year. On Sunday, King earned his 400th career win, all with the Hoosiers.
King said the milestone meant he was old more than anything else. His players view it differently.
“I think that’s pretty exciting because he’s been here with the program since it’s began, and that’s pretty great that we could be here in our senior year and help him get to that milestone,” Gerrity said.
This season, IU has been inconsistent, Gerrity said. But after winning its last eight games of the season, IU will end the season in a three-way tie for first place, but will be the third seed in the Collegiate Water Polo Association tournament due to goal differential.
IU has beaten both the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, Princeton and Michigan, this season. The Hoosiers won twice at Princeton and lost once against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., by a goal ?in overtime.
McNaught said IU is better than both teams. Winning is just a matter of playing like the Hoosiers know they’re capable of. King agrees.
“I think if we play our best we’re better than they are,” King said. “It’s just a matter of bringing that when we ?have to.”
The Hoosiers will need to win the conference tournament to qualify for the national tournament. It’s always been this way, another sign of how much respect water polo is given in the Midwest. No matter how many talented teams are in the conference, the CWPA will only get one team in the tournament.
For comparison, of the eight teams in the NCAA tournament last year, five were from the Pac-12. The other two were from the ?Big West.
IU was one of two schools not from California in the tournament. The other was Arizona State.
But still, IU continues to remain among the country’s elite. Despite the disadvantages and despite the continuous disrespect, the Hoosiers continue to compete.
“It’s the expectation,” King said. “It’s why we do this, it’s why train the way we do. It’s the reason we want to compete because we want to be as good as we can possibly be against the best people we have to compete against.”