When Ezgi Eyigor arrived at BU last year, she immediately searched for a club swim team. She had been swimming since she was eight and wanted to continue. When she went to BU’s annual student activities fair Splash, she saw a group of guys wearing Speedos and asked whether they were on the swim team.
“They were like, ‘No, we play water polo,’” sophomore Eyigor (CAS) recalls.
Her interest was piqued, so they directed her to a nearby table, where members of the women’s club water polo team were talking to curious students. Eyigor, who had never even seen a water polo match, was hooked.
The club team is open to players of various skill levels. “A lot of members haven’t played water polo before,” fourth-year head coach Joanna Chan (SHA’12) says. “They either only have a swimming background, or some girls didn’t even swim before coming here. They just jumped in wanting to try something new.”
That was the case for four-year team veteran senior Maddie Thomas (SHA), this year’s president. Despite being a swimmer growing up, the Beverley, Mass., native had barely heard of the sport prior to coming to BU.
Freshman year, she and senior Sabrina Reilly (CAS) “were the only people who hadn’t played water polo on the team,” Thomas says, acknowledging that it took some time to get a feel for the sport. “It’s clear when you’re slowing down the practice, and it was just a lot of pressure being the one dropping the ball and not knowing where to go.”
The sport is physically demanding: players have to be strong swimmers, able to tread water, pass the ball, and shoot at goal. It requires a lot of teamwork as well. Matches consist of four quarters, and the two competing teams attempt to score by throwing the ball into the opposing team’s goal.
Although the team competes in only three tournaments during spring semester, the time commitment is demanding: players meet four times a week for two-hour practices. And those practices can be rigorous, especially for players new to the game. Eyigor recalls a particularly trying day last year when she just didn’t feel good about playing. “But after practice, a teammate reached out and said that water polo shouldn’t be a stress-inducing thing in my life,” she says. “It should be a stress relief. And that changed my attitude going forward.”
Players say that the team fosters a strong sense of community. They eat together, study together, and travel together—most recently to a training session in California that ended up focusing more on group bonding because of weeklong rain. (Most training pools in Southern California are outdoors.)
“If something’s going wrong, you tell each other on Snapchat, and people come to your room with chocolate,” Eyigor says.“It’s more than a community. It’s a family, for sure.”
“I met my best friend through BU water polo,” Thomas says. “I met a lot of people here that I’ll remain friends with for the rest of my life.”
That said, the game demands a lot of physical play and competitiveness.
“Anything the ref can’t see is legal, so there’s a lot of underhanded play that happens to try and advance the ball,” says junior Madie Janik (CAS). “That’s very innate to the sport.”
Injuries are not uncommon, which isn’t surprising given that the game is played with a “ball that’s a size of a volleyball, but with the density of a basketball being hurled,” she says.
One of the few members to have played water polo before college, Janik has suffered three concussions during her playing career: two from barred shots—meaning that in the goal attempt, the ball hit the top or the sidebar of the goal before hitting her head—and one from a punch while she was getting chased out of the goal. After the most recent one freshman year, she was forced to give up her position as goalkeeper.
Thomas, too, knows firsthand how tough the game can be. “We’ve had two major concussions. One of them was me. My freshman year, I broke a girl’s hand. I was just a freshman who didn’t even know how to play, and I made the wrong pass.”
This weekend, the team will compete in the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) New England Division Championship, being held at FitRec. Last year, the club placed second, losing to Boston College in the championship game. Since it was the tournament’s last game, teams often don’t stay for it, but many of the teams convinced their coaches to stay, Janik recalls, and most cheered for BU.
“The fact that our team was nice enough to make a good impact on the other teams and that they would stay and cheer for us against BC,” she says, “made us feel really good as people, not just as water polo players.”
The BU women’s club water polo team hosts the CWPA New England Division Tournament this weekend at the BU Fitness & Recreation Center, 915 Commonwealth Ave. BU’s play begins on Saturday, April 6, against Boston College, at 4 pm, and continues against UMass Amherst at 6:45 pm. On Sunday, April 7, it’s BU against Dartmouth at 2:10 pm and against Northeastern at 5:50 pm.