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From a spectator’s point of view at the top of the stands, water polo is deceptive. Seemingly graceful, players rise out of the water, ball in hand, to take a shot at the goal. Yet five feet away from the edge of the pool, amid the churning water, the players are barely visible. And it is nearly impossible not to get splashed.
With the same basic rules as soccer but with more physical contact, water polo demands the constant attention of its players. Athletes tread water for about 30 minutes in a 12-foot-deep swimming pool while attempting to score points and defend the goal. Junior Mary Caroline Ward, the goalie for her team, has been playing water polo for seven years for Episcopal Academy and Greater Philly Water Polo. Ward said that it is essential for water polo players to be in good physical condition.
Junior Mary Caroline Ward trains on a water polo team every week. Luke Rafferty/The SPOKE
“You need to have really good leg and core strength, and you need to have really good hand-eye coordination because you throw and catch with one hand while you’re swimming back and forth and treading water the whole time,” Ward said.
Ward practices once a week with a game every weekend starting in April. When she began playing water polo, it was mainly to train for swimming, but she eventually decided to quit swimming and play water polo full time.
“Physically it’s really demanding. You have to be in really good shape,” Ward said. “There are times where the referee can’t call any fouls because most of the violence is occurring under the water. I know half of the time, I’ve come out of the pool with bruises all over my legs, but it adds to the fun because it brings out a whole different aspect.”
During practices, coaches are either in or out of the water, directing exercises or helping players with their form. The athletes focus on lower body conditioning in order to sustain long periods of treading water. Players also use weight belts and medicine balls to build up endurance and strength.
“It’s a very physical sport and you’ve got to be in great shape. I think it’s a very difficult sport,” said Alicia Keating, one of Ward’s coaches.
Sophomore Laeticia Mabilais played water polo for two years, but decided that the game’s physical contact did not suit her.
“In the games, you get tired after only ten minutes,” Mabilais said. “People pushed you under and sometimes grabbed your bathing suit and pulled you around. It was pretty scary.”
Others believe that the challenge of water polo provides a feeling of accomplishment. Junior Katie Jalboot has been playing water polo since fifth grade. She joined Ward’s team after Ward recommended it to her. Jalboot said that the first few weeks of practice were the hardest for her, but after learning the basics of water polo, Jalboot began to enjoy the sport.
“Once it’s over it feels like a weird accomplishment,” Jalboot said. “You just treaded water for 30 minutes. It’s sort of like runners’ high, but swimmers’ high.”