Athletics & Recreation / Campus & Community / Current Issue / Magazine Feature

DU club does polo, pool-style

Something’s going on under the water in the pool at the El Pomar Natatorium. Above the water, it all looks rather fun—competitive, yes—but definitely fun.

Beneath the surface, though, is a lot of kicking, scratching, holding, poking and even pulling on swimsuits. Above the water a whistle pierces the humid air. No doubt, a referee has spotted one of those infractions. The offender is sent off to the penalty box for a 20-second stretch.

Welcome to water polo—University of Denver style.

One thing that’s not going on under the water: feet touching the bottom. For much of an hour, players swim the length of the “field” back and forth.

“It’s a workout,” says Ben Kincses, an international business major from Hungary who played the sport as a kid. “On average, a player swims about 1.5 miles in a game.”

Players describe water polo as a mix of soccer, basketball, ice hockey, wrestling and rugby.

Ouch. It does get rough.

“Players get poked in the eye, take hits to the face and there’s bleeding sometimes,” Kincses says.

Plus, there’s plenty of yelling. When the word weak echoes off the walls, it means somebody on the “weak side” of the defense is open and possibly able to score. The words we’re up or we’re down means they’re up or down a player because of a penalty.

The sport pits two teams of seven players each (six “field” players and one goalie) against each other. The aim is simple: score more goals than the other team. The playing area is 30 meters long by 20 meters wide; the floating goals are one meter high and three meters wide.

The ball can only be caught and thrown by one hand. When a team gains control of the ball, it has just 35 seconds to shoot.

Kincses started the DU water polo club in 2005, and by the start of the 2006–07 school year, he had a team of 25 sanctioned by the Collegiate Water Polo Association.

In that first year, DU hosted the Rocky Mountain Conference Championship and placed a respectable third out of seven teams from Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Today about 25 students, both men and women, play water polo throughout the school year; 14 play competitively in eight games during the fall against other schools such as the University of Utah, University of Colorado, Utah State University, University of Wyoming, the Colorado School of Mines, U.S. Air Force Academy and Colorado State University.

Maura Shandley, a junior from Illinois who played in high school, says she “fell in love with the sport immediately” because of the team aspect.

“It was such a great change from swimming, it’s absolutely challenging,” Shandley says. “We’ve had several people come out who’ve never played and they all loved it. Many even stuck with it the entire season and became key players.”

Katie Bernell, a sophomore from Texas, says a friend urged her to try it.

“More or less I tried it to see if I could tread water for more than five minutes,” Bernell says. “I kept afloat … gained some skills and made some great friends.”


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