The men’s club water polo team defeated Dartmouth 6-5 on Oct. 23 to clinch the New England League Championship and a third consecutive trip to the National Championships.
The Bulldogs’ presence at the National Championships is a result of their recent streak of domination over their New England League competition. They have attained an 11-1 league record on their way to their sixth appearance at the National Championships in the past nine years.
Co-captain David Skophammer ’12 said this year will be the last chance at a national title for five players on the team. In addition to the four members of the Class of 2012, this will also be the last season for sixth-year graduate student Ross Macdonald.
“We’ve become a more cohesive team,” Macdonald said. “We have been able to improve our coordination in the water. We play in a way that maximizes our skill sets rather than freewheeling.”
Skophammer attributed part of this success to the continuity on the team created by playing with the same teammates for four years. Co-captain Paul Orland ’12 added that all five are now a part of the team’s starting rotation.
This year, however, has not been easy for the Bulldogs, Dominic Kwok ’13 said. Kwok added that the team had difficulty adjusting to one of its better players graduating last year.
The team lost its first New England League match in three years earlier this season, falling to Boston College 10-12. The loss snapped a two-year winning streak against New England League opponents, Kwok said.
“Up until this year, I personally had never lost a New England League Game,” Kwok said. “Heading into the season we had won 29 consecutive games in the league.”
Jack Montgomery ’12 added that the loss was surprising because Boston College did not even field a team last year due to self-imposed sanctions regarding hazing. Montgomery said that the team was able to adjust to the mistakes it made against Boston College the first time and beat the Eagles 15-7 in a rematch in the next tournament.
The team’s first league loss since 2008 was not enough to derail it from a third straight appearance at the National Championship. The loss occurred in the first of two round-robin style tournaments, but the League Champion was decided by a third tournament that took place at Wesleyan College in Middletown, Conn.
The team will head to Georgia Tech next Friday as the seventh-seed in the 16-team competition. Kwok and Montgomery explained that each team’s seeding in the tournament is based off of the results of the team that represented its region the prior year. Yale went 2-2 in last year’s championship to secure the seventh seed, but several players on the team have higher expectations.
“I really think if we do what we have the potential to … we could make it to the final game,” Skophammer said. Orland added that one of the team’s goals is to make it to the top four in the standings.
Other members of the team were not as bold with their predictions. Kwok said that a good goal for the team would be to improve upon its results from last year’s National Championship. Montgomery added that being the seventh seed will give the team an advantage as it advances through the tournament because it will not have to face a top four seeded team in the first two rounds.
While the team has had success on the national level, Skophammer and Orland said that the team has had trouble creating a following at Yale. Orland attributed this in part to the fact that the team is on the club rather than the varsity level. Both players said that since the sport is not a popular sport across the country, many students have not been exposed to water polo before. If students were exposed to the fast-paced nature of the game, Skophammer said, he feels that students would enjoy it.
Other members of the team said that they are satisfied with the support the team receives. While Kwok acknowledged that the team does not get the recognition of varsity sports, both he and Montgomery said that the team has developed a small following of friends who attend home games.
“Ultimately we’re a club sport,” Kwok said. “At the end of the day we do this for ourselves, not for recognition.”
Yale will face 10th-seeded Villanova on Friday, Nov. 11.