Even without tryouts, player cuts, and University funding, the men’s club water polo team reaped the benefits of two-and-a-half hour daily practices, placing second in the New England Championship Tournament this weekend.
The fourth-seeded Elis (11-5) competed on equal footing with several programs recently demoted from varsity status — including the University of Massachusetts, ranked nationally last year, in the championship game.
“It was a dominant weekend for Yale,” Will Reid ’03 said. “[The championship game against Massachusetts] was the best water polo game Yale has ever played.”
The four-game tournament could not have gone much better for the Bulldogs. They beat Amherst College 12-3, defeated Boston College 5-2 with strong defense, and outscored old-time rival Williams College, 9-6.
Although Yale did not beat Massachusetts in the championship round, the Elis are still very proud of their performance this season. Massachusetts was ranked fourth in the nation as a varsity program last year.
“This was the most enjoyable water polo experience I’ve ever had,” Reid said. “As far as we’re concerned, we won New Englands.”
Up until the final minutes, the game against Massachusetts was a back and forth battle for a trip to the NCAA national tournament in California in mid-November.
The score was tied 5-5 at halftime, but the Elis could not come up with two badly needed points at the end of the game, and Massachusetts squeaked by with a 9-7 win. Besides having many recruited athletes, Massachusetts also had 11 seniors on a 14-person roster.
“The weekend went really well,” James Tunick ’03 said. “We beat teams we’ve had trouble with in the past.”
Player-coach Tunick and co-captains Henry Tibensky ’03 and Dan O’Neill ’03 led the Bulldogs this weekend. And the Elis benefited from an extremely deep team this season.
Yale competes in the New England Division of the Collegiate Water Polo Association. This extremely competitive division includes Massachusetts and Dartmouth, both recent additions because the two schools reduced their water polo squads to club status. But the former varsity programs still compete with many former recruits.
Any Yale undergraduate or graduate student may compete for the Elis. Still, the Yale squad has finished third place or higher in its last three seasons.
“It really was a big team effort this season,” Tibensky said. “We just played really well as a team.”
Men’s water polo became a club sport after the 1996 season in order to fulfill Title 9 requirements. But this status change did not end Yale’s tradition of competitive men’s water polo.
The season officially begins in early September — after a two-week summer workout session with former team member and Canadian National coach George Cross.
Hard work and great team chemistry propelled the team through the New England Division this fall. A combination of initiation ceremonies, parties, team dinners and crazy nicknames helped teammates bond.
“A couple of us all got together and shaved our heads to get pumped up for the [weekend tournament],” Reid said. “We all got along really well.”
Even though the team will lose four seniors to graduation, Yale should remain competitive as its deep underclass corps matures.
“It was an amazing season as far as I’m concerned,” Tunick said. “I’m really proud to be a part of the team this year.”