For a team with varying amounts of talent, from experienced high school players to first-year players, the Penn State women’s water polo team is finding a way to win.
With two tournaments down, and eight consecutive wins, the team is currently No. 19 in the nation and only picking up momentum. Coach Todd Roth attributes their continued success to a strong team dynamic, which he says has made his first year as head coach an incredibly smooth transition.
The team’s lack of recognition could potentially lie in the fact that water polo, both men and women’s, remains a club sport. This means that anyone can join regardless of year or experience.
Team president Allison Lederer had never played water polo before joining the club team at Penn State. The junior said she believes that keeping water polo at the club level has been a positive decision and enjoys the fact that anyone is able to play.
“It’s kind of what you make it,” team captain Christin DeMoss said. “If you’re going to be a starter and get a lot of playing time, it’s going to be a fairly large commitment.”
Team captain Shannon Harrop said that accepting anyone, regardless of experience, has allowed for freshmen who had never played in a game to become starters and key contributors by their senior year.
To the best of Roth’s knowledge, water polo at Penn State has been around since the 1970s and has fluctuated in skill level throughout because they don’t recruit.
Water polo is not incredibly popular in Pennsylvania, and the Penn State women attribute the subpar turnouts at tournaments to this. With the 2012 Summer Olympics, water polo began to gain some momentum but it is still overshadowed by many other more popular sports.
“Our fan base, and water polo in general, has improved in popularity over the past four years,” DeMoss said.
She added that for each home tournament, which is generally only one per season, the team created Facebook events and invited everyone they know. The crowd at the home matches generally consists of the team’s parents and the locals, though the student attendance has begun to increase.
Though many team members do like that women’s water polo is a club sport, they would not be opposed to it evolving into a varsity sport.
Harrop, who played water polo all through high school, was disappointed in the lack of varsity water polo teams in the Big Ten when choosing a college to attend.
“Where I went to high school, near Reading, Pa., water polo was a big deal, and I played with very talented girls that I know would have loved to play at Penn State,” Harrop said. “Pennsylvania is a very good water polo state and I believe a varsity program would definitely thrive here.”
She said she believes that the creation of a Penn State varsity women’s water polo team would allow them to recruit from several top tier high school players. Both Roth and Lederer say that they would love to see Penn State add a varsity team as long as club water polo remained as well.
Water polo would have to overcome significant obstacles in order to become a varsity sport. Roth believes that the chances of this happening anytime soon are slim. He credited this to the lack of popularity water polo has on the eastern coast.
Another major inhibitor is funding. For water polo to become a varsity sport another pool would have to be built because it would be almost impossible for them to split time with the varsity swim team.
Roth said with the addition of men’s ice hockey as a varsity sport, Penn State may be reluctant to add any more in the coming years.
Though club water polo does not require the same intensity and time commitment as a varsity sport, the women are usually in the pool three to four times a week and spend one night of the week in the weight room.
They are also expected to spend time on their own working out both in the pool and gym throughout the week. Though club water polo is considered a spring sport that begins in January and continues through May, the team generally plays one away tournament in the fall and continues training through the off season.
Outside the pool, the team maintains a close bond.
“Penn State is a huge campus,” team captain Lara Kaiserian said. “I really found a place where I belong and I found my best friends.”
The senior said she believes that because water polo is a club sport, everyone on the team is extremely accepting, which in turn has fostered close friendships.
Roth said the success his team has had this season could be attributed to relationships built in both the offseason and outside of practice.
“The team component would be the most important thing,” Roth said. “We have talent across all of the classes. Each of those classes work together as a team and that has been vital to our success.”
Lederer said that it has been great to see “the older girls passing down the torch to younger girls.”
The team, who plays in the Collegiate Water Polo Association in the Mid-Atlantic Region, has a clear vision in sight ï‚¾ to win regionals and advance to nationals.
Regionals will be held at Carnegie Mellon in April and nationals in Minnesota in May. The national tournament will include the top teams from each of the 16 regions.
Roth said he believes that in order to advance it will come down to a showdown with Duke ï‚¾ the only other undefeated team in the Mid-Atlantic Region. He said he is confident in the team’s chances to win.
Though the team’s home matches are over for the season, it’s hoping for increased support as it continues its bid for the regional championship.
Recognition or no recognition the women’s water polo team will continue to do what it has always done: work hard every week, accept everyone regardless of talent and dominate opponents in the pool.