By Paul Grant
Having finished their first two tournaments with a 5-3 record, Grinnell’s Water Polo team is prepping for the do-or-die competition of the season, the conference tournament, which will be held here on October 20.
Similar to a varsity team, the Grinnell Wild Turkeys compete largely against D-III schools. For their first tournament, the team traveled to Northfield, Minnesota where Carleton College hosted a conference meet. At that meet, the team received an unexpected loss to Macalester College, but managed to break even, finishing with a 2-2 record. At their second meet in Monmouth, Illinois, the team put on a stronger performance, going 3-1 for the day. The team has earned the fourth seed in their conference (out of eight teams) going into the national-qualifying tournament.
There are, however, a number of differences between the water polo team and a regular varsity sports team. For one, there are no coaches but instead three student-captains, Austin Cote ’15, Manu Spooner ’13 and Beck Ringdahl-Mayland ’13. Cote and Spooner run practices and call subs during games while simultaneously playing in them.
Though different from varsity teams, Cote said that the team has never felt a disadvantage for lacking a coach.
“It’s a lot different from a varsity sport, less-structured … but I think the captains do a really good job,” Will Gottlieb ’15 said.
The young-rostered team, which has only three seniors and one third-year, practices three times a week. Two of the weekly practices are devoted primarily to skill drills, working on shooting and the umbrella—the standard offensive formation in water polo. The third practice is scrimmaging, either intra-team or against visitors. Occasionally, the Des Moines water polo team comes to scrimmage, as they will on Thursday, October 18. The scrimmage begins at 7:30 p.m. in the natatorium and is open to the public.
Strength is a very important factor in successful gameplay. Although team players have no required weightlifting, swim team practices provide sufficient conditioning, and all but two team members are also on the swim team.
“It’s the pure form of a physical challenge . . . you have so much freedom to harass your opponent,” said Clark Fancher ’15 when asked what he liked about the sport.
“It’s a great combination of brute force and finesse . . . there’s a lot of time when you’re just fighting underwater, but there’s also a lot of skill that goes into it,” Gottlieb said. “Underwater, it’s pretty much fair game to do anything you want.”
The aggressive and fast-paced nature of the game make for an excellent spectator sport.
“It’s a great sport to watch, very fast moving, very intense, kind of gladiatorial,” Cote said.
“Sometimes you get to see someone get punched!” Spooner, who plays goalie, added.
On October 20, the Wild Turkeys will have a chance to move on to national competition in the conference tournament. The meet will see all eight teams in the Heartland division: Monmouth, Macalester, Carleton, Augustana, Saint John’s, Saint Mary’s, Knox and Grinnell.
The team will need all the home support it can get, because the results of the first two tournaments affected the bracket so that the Grinnell team will need to beat Monmouth, the conference powerhouse, to make it to the finals and qualify for nationals. Only the first and second place teams qualify. The Grinnell team has placed second for the past couple years, which has allowed them to qualify each time, but this year is more of a challenge, given their position.
“We really want a big Grinnell populace to cheer us on, you know, get us riled up,” said Cote.
“It’ll be awesome. So, turn out, Grinnellians!” Spooner said.