Pool Break: UA Club Water Polo Deals with a Waterless Summer
“I would be devastated.”
The words came through over the phone, expressed with a disappointed tone as if the upcoming season had already been cancelled.
“That team is a lot of fun and it’s kind of my escape,” University of Alabama sophomore Nick Ward said. “Chemical engineering is not what most people think of as a fun time. I enjoy it but it’s a little stressful so when I go to practice and I can just bust my butt in the pool and I can play with my friends and get better that’s a way I can get rid of stress.”
Ward is a member of the UA Club Water Polo team, a group of students who form a solid squad of players from all over the country and play a sport that many have never even heard of.
Just because it might be a lesser-known sport doesn’t mean that they are any less passionate about it.
“I feel like water polo is one of those sports where it’s really hard to get someone to try it if they haven’t already,” Ward said. “For example: basketball. Everyone’s played basketball in some capacity and if you want to have a team then you can have tryouts and you can have cuts but water polo is like — it’s one of the hardest sports to just pick up.”
Over the past few seasons, UA club water polo has given teams around the region to respect their name. With three-straight Southeast Division titles including an undefeated season last fall, the team has had a lot to brag about these past several seasons.
After a routine tournament in Florida during early March, the team returned to Tuscaloosa hopeful and ready to prepare for an upcoming tournament in Tennessee.
Then everything changed.
Due to the pandemic, the university announced that it would be closing down its campus to students — including its aquatic facilities. This understandable decision left the team stranded, disoriented and wondering how it would prepare during the summer months for its upcoming season.
Colin Patrick — a senior international studies and Spanish double-major — has had difficulties staying in shape during the summer months. With pools and gyms closed throughout the country, maintaining a proper fitness regimen has proven a tough task.
“For some of us like myself, I don’t have a home gym,” Patrick said. “The gym that was in my community closed down as well as the pool. Across the board me and my teammates, we haven’t had a pool to really swim in.”
Patrick, who is 6-foot-1, says that while his apartment pool has finally been opened back up, it hardly provides him with the space or depth required to stay in shape due to his height.
“I live in an apartment here in Tuscaloosa and its pool is open but it isn’t deep enough,” Patrick laughed. “There’s one small section where it’s five-feet deep so I can’t practice in it. I can’t tread water — my feet are going to be hitting the ground — it’s not going to work.
“We’re going to be out of shape and it’s going to be a lot of work if we have a season.”
Fortunately, not all of the team’s members have had as many difficulties as finding opportunities to stay in shape as Patrick.
Sidd Mupparaju — a sophomore biology major — said that while the early get-go was tough, he has eventually been able to sort out a solution.
“At the beginning of the pandemic I definitely got a little bit out of shape,” Mupparaju said. “I feel like a lot of people would say the same thing. The will to do stuff wasn’t really there in deep quarantine. Not seeing anybody, it was tough to even get out of bed some days. Once I got past that I’ve just started lifting in my basement. There’s no way I can swim or anything so I’ve kind of accepted that but I go on runs to keep my cardio decent and then I lift in my basement to try to get a little stronger.”
Conference foe Vanderbilt has already announced that it will not be fielding a club water polo team for the 2020 season due to the novel coronavirus. With that team gone, it is expected that more might soon follow.
Mupparaju serves as the team’s treasurer and said that the team’s virtual meetings over the summer have been filled with hard questions.
“It’s made planning a lot more difficult,” Mupparaju said. “We’ll have to figure out who we’re going to play, what we’re going to do about tournaments and things like that because travel and all that is going to be much more difficult. We don’t even know if we’ll have a season right now.
“We had a team meeting three days ago and what we talked about foremost was are we even going to have a season. Yes, we’re talking about these things and we’re preparing but there’s a possibility that we won’t have a season or we won’t have any events.”
With the season running from late August until November, time is beginning to run out.
While Ward had begun his discussion of the water polo team’s doubts heading into the fall semester, he reiterated that the team has a plan should the upcoming season go belly-up.
“Even if we can’t travel which is likely I really hope we can still practice,” Ward said. “Hopefully be able to keep some level of intensity even if we can’t reach our goal feasibly this season. If the season does happen I wouldn’t put any doubts against us. I think we have a really good chance of achieving our goals.”
While large pools suitable for water polo continue to remain closed in many areas across the country, the team is still optimistic about the fall season and can’t wait to get back into the water — an activity that many on the team haven’t been able to do since their last practice in March.
“We’ll see how I swim,” Ward laughed. “At least I’ll still have some muscle left to defend myself.”