Combine the endurance of long-distance swimming with the agility of myriad sports including basketball, rugby, hockey, and soccer and you’ll see what creates the incredible sport of Water Polo. This Naval Academy club sport, often called the most difficult game to play—anywhere—was added as an ExtraCurricular Activity (ECA). From its inception, this dynamic club team has been run by and for the midshipmen.
A Water Polo Refresher
Water polo consists of two teams of seven players each (including a goalie) battling it out in a large all-deep pool where the players aren’t able to consistently touch the bottom. Each team has a goal, and similar to soccer, the teams can score by throwing the ball into the opposing team’s goal. The ball floats on the water, and the goals either float or are tethered to the pool sides. Matches run for four quarters of eight minutes each. Like most sports, water polo has its own rules, language and traditions.
Many attribute the founding of this exciting sport to William Wilson in the 1870s; it’s thought of as an iteration of “water rugby.” Men’s water polo has the honor of being the first team sport introduced at the 1900 Olympics Games. Women’s water polo later joined them in 2000 at the Sydney Olympic Games.
Typically swimming isn't considered an injury-inducing rough sport; however, water polo is a contact sport. A significant number of injuries occur, usually because there’s not much in the way of protective gear, excluding a swim cap with ear protectors. Officials mete out minor (ordinary) and major (personal) fouls to curb injuries. While the number of minor fouls can be limitless, a player that commits three major fouls is ejected from the game. Like hockey, water polo is not for the faint of heart.
On the Water With the ECA Water Polo Team
At the Naval Academy, the ECA water polo team in Annapolis is very competitive within their conference. “The team is traditionally very strong and almost always wins our conference championships, enabling us to go to the national championship tournament,” says MIDN 1/C Jack Sherman, the team’s vice president. Together with president Hunter Hicks, he coaches the team. While they did not make it to nationals for water polo club sports this year, Sherman sees the positive: “It has shown us a great deal we can work on to be even stronger in the future.”
In addition to their successes, the team’s culture has also attracted a big following. Tryouts are held in the fall semester, and they’ll see as many as 60-70 hopefuls come for 8-10 slots. Sherman attributes much of that popularity to the people on the team and the joy of the sport itself. “The best part about being on the team is the great culture and ability to blow off some steam in the pool each day. I really like the people this sport draws and it has created a great community at the Academy. My favorite memories all revolve around winning tournaments with the team and bonding with people. Even the dullest day can turn around after a fun scrimmage at practice.”
Making a Splash This Spring
Practices and matches are both held in the Norman Scott Natatorium, affectionately known by mids as “the water polo pool”. The team has one of the longer club sports seasons; however, with COVID restrictions, the midshipmen ECA water polo team doesn’t have a formal schedule currently, but they’ll continue to play matches throughout the spring.
The team is slated to play a tournament at the University of Virginia soon. These tournaments keep them traveling up and down the East Coast, competing against schools like Georgetown University, the University of Maryland and James Madison University. “Keeping these up year-round is a good way to stay competitive and have fun,” says Sherman.
If you haven't been to a Naval Academy water polo match, you’re in for a treat! Come cheer on the ECA Water Polo team and watch them make a splash!