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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, April 18, 2024

Water Polo | Women hope to split off, start own club water polo squad

In the past few years, the number of women on the Tufts co−ed club water polo team has been on the rise. There were three in 2009, five in 2010, and this year the 30−person roster consists of 10 women. With this surge in interest, the women of the Tufts club water polo team — spearheaded by juniors MaddieMayerson and KJ Kroetch — have taken it upon themselves to work on starting their own squad.

With water polo being such a physical sport, it is difficult for the women to compete against males of bigger size and stature. Most of the schools that Tufts faces field all−male teams, making Tufts' co−ed makeup unique. According to Kroetch, UMass Amherst and Williams are the only other teams that feature females, and each school has no more than three.

"With co−ed teams, there's a big size difference," Kroetch said. "In a sport like water polo, it's really important to be able to match up to your opponent, so playing against all guys, girls are always at a big disadvantage."

Playing with men is especially frustrating for the five women who have experience playing water polo.

"My biggest problem is that I know exactly what to do because I know the strategy and all the plays and the moves, but I'm smaller and weaker and slower than the men we play against so I physically can't keep up," said Mayerson, who has played the sport since eighth grade. "I'm not able to play the game the way I want to and the way I know I can. … I can't compete with them at that level even though I know what to do."

The co−ed team is led by senior co−captains Alex Strittmatter and BenjiKoltai, who are both committed to getting all the women to play in the games as much as possible. The women end up getting their most significant playing time when the team has a substantial lead.

Having a lead is not unusual for the team, which has seen considerable success. In 2009, the Jumbos won the Div. III club National Championships, and last year, they had an undefeated season heading into the Championships, where they finished fourth. Mayerson was one of only two women in the entire tournament. So far this season, the team has won six of eight matches, with both losses coming against Amherst.

Mayerson first had the idea to start a women's team her freshman year in 2009. Then−senior Mack Carlson (LA '10) had expressed an interest in starting a separate women's team, but there was not enough interest at the time.

Kroetch and Mayerson contacted Club Sports Director Carol Rappoli and Assistant Director of Athletics BranwenSmith−King with the idea, and they are currently applying for Tier II club sport status from the university.

The co−ed team is a Tier I club sport, which means that it gets some funding and support from the university. According to Mayerson, however, there is currently a moratorium on Tier I club sports, meaning that if club status is eventually granted, the women's water polo team would be forced to fund itself.

"Water polo is a huge thing in California and on the West Coast," Mayerson said, "but in the Northeast there are fewer teams so it would involve more traveling and potentially more tournaments further away, which would be really difficult without any funding at all."

The team, though, is not completely discouraged.

"We won't be guaranteed pool time or even given funds to join the women's water polo league in the spring so that makes it hard, but it's not an impossible barrier. It's not something we can't work around," Kroetch said.

In order to compete in the women's tournaments in the spring — the main season for women's water polo — it is necessary that the club be approved by Rappoli and Smith−King. For the Jumbos to compete in the College Water Polo Association (CWPA), they need to have club recognition from Tufts.

If the women's team is successfully created, the Jumbos will likely compete in the North Atlantic division of the CWPA Div. III, against schools like Middlebury, Bowdoin, Wellelsey and MIT.

"Setting anything new is a bit of a challenge," freshman Laura Schrier said. "If we become our own team, we'll need to work on finding the leadership and getting the cohesiveness. But there's a lot of enthusiasm that I've heard and hopefully that will carry though and everyone will be stoked to play."

The men are also excited for the women to start their own team. Alex Robb, a third−year student at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and one of two graduate students on the team, previously coached Wellesley's women's team and is willing to help coach and support the Jumbos.

The women hope that having a separate team will garner more interest and encourage new people to join the sport.

"For a lot of girls who might consider playing water polo, they don't want to play with a bunch of guys," Schrier said. "But having a girls' team would allow more girls who don't have a lot of experience to come out and play."

To match the success of the co−ed team, the women recognize the need for new bodies in the pool.

"The 10 players we have now is enough, but in order to practice well, we would want at least 15," Kroetch said. "Any number of new people that wanted to play would be terrific. The interest we have now is pretty solid, but it'd be great to expand that."