Yale has a team with a chance to win a national championship this weekend — it’s just not the team the typical Yalie might expect.
After an 8–0 regular season, the Yale men’s club water polo team is heading to the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s 16-team national tournament at the University of Florida this coming Friday. The team, which placed first out of eight teams in the New England division of the CWPA, will face the University of Texas in its first game.
The CWPA has 16 divisions across the United States, and the champions of each division compete at nationals, which feature four sets of single-elimination games, running Friday to Sunday. This is the first time since 2005 that the Yale team has qualified to compete in the championships. The team placed third in 2003, fourth in 2004 and fifth in 2005.
Player-coach Thomas Lazzarini ’11 said he hopes the team will win its first game and make it into the championship bracket of the top-eight teams. If Yale defeats Texas on Friday, it will face either Michigan State or Florida on Saturday morning.
Three players interviewed said they do not know what to expect from Texas, as league divisions are segregated and club sports receive little media attention.
“We are expecting some tough competition,” co-captain Jay Kim ’10 said. “But we have no idea what type of players we’re going to see coming in.”
One of the team’s volunteer assistant coaches, Andrew Lewandowski ’92 SOM ’02, said he hopes Yale will finish in the top five, although he admitted that more than half the schools competing at the tournament are large state schools that have a bigger pool of students from which to draw players.
Besides Texas, other schools competing at the tournament are UCLA, Arizona and Virginia Tech, as well as some smaller ones like Columbia and Lindenwood University.
UCLA is the only school that also has a varsity counterpart in NCAA water polo, which includes about 50 teams in three divisions.
Business manager and player Jack Montgomery ’12 said he is excited to compete this weekend, adding that the team has worked very hard this past year.
The team practices from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and holds scrimmages on non-tournament Saturdays. Yale emerged undefeated from the two regular season tournaments in which the team competed, as well as the New England Division Championship, where Yale was the first seed and won all three of its games.
Lazzarini attributed the team’s regular season success to the work ethic of the players and alumni coaches.
The four volunteer assistant coaches — Chip Spear ’74, Lewandowski, Doug Hausladen ’04 and David Gerstle ’09 — are all alumni living in the New Haven area and represent a wide range of graduating classes.
A synthesis of strong leadership, focused practice and a talented freshman class has also contributed to the team’s success, equipment manager and player Andy Gordon ’11 said.
Kim also attributed the team’s success this season to a strong bench, referring to numerous games in which the team trailed at half time or during the third quarter, but was able to get back in the game due in large part to its substitutes.
Lewandowski said Yale’s team is unique because, as a club team, its players include anyone who is willing to learn and take the sport seriously.
Besides undergrads, the team includes two graduate students, according to Gordon, who said that one such example is Ross MacDonald GRD ’12, a graduate student in English who had never played water polo prior to this season, but has worked very hard and become a very good player, according to teammates.
Club water polo rules allow graduate students currently enrolled in a university to play on the school’s team, according to Gordon.
“That’s the really fun thing about the team right now,” Lewandowski said. “We’re not just bringing in studs.”
The team’s game against Texas is Friday at 5:00 p.m.