Though you only find antiquated results when you Google search “Wesleyan water polo,” the squad, which is technically a club, is still very much alive and kicking. Its members are decked out with new suits and are playing in a new conference. Having played in two tournaments, the club has amassed five victories in six matches, including wins over both Amherst and Williams. With a stranglehold over water polo’s Little Three title, the Cards head into their final tournament of the season with a berth for Club Nationals at stake this weekend at Williams. Joseph Nucci ’16 has witnessed many changes in Wesleyan water polo, and The Argus caught up with him to take stock of the season thus far and discuss the sport’s unofficial status.
The Argus: Tell us a little about your conference and match schedule. What other club teams do you play?
Joseph Nucci: The Wesleyan Water Polo team used to play in a different club conference up until this year. In our previous conference, we used to face schools like Dartmouth, Yale and Boston College. Although we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves against them, it was tough competing against teams that had an official coach and a steady system already in place. We have an alumni coach, Erin [Cohn ’15], but she only attends games and we have to organize practices ourselves. This year we decided to move down a league, and I think it was definitely the right decision because now we’re facing teams that are right at our level. In our first tournament of the season, we won both of our matches pretty handily, and in our second tournament, hosted by Wes, we went three for four, destroying WPI 16-3 and edging Williams 15-11 on the first day. The next morning, we beat Amherst, but then fell to Coast Guard by a score of 6-5. We have another tournament this weekend at Williams, where we will face them and Coast Guard yet again. Whoever wins the tournament will receive a bid to Club Nationals, so it’s huge for us.
A: What players on the team have contributed most to your successful season?
JN: We have several newcomers on the team that have performed really well this season. Also, I’ve played for four years with Lawrence Ma [’16], who has probably scored the most out of anyone on the team this season. I’ve also been scoring a lot despite never having been especially good at offense. Spencer Tang ’18 actually popped a ball last tournament because he shot it so hard. Max Weimer ’19 is new this year and has already been a strong defensive presence in games. Both of our junior captains, Buster Bickerton [’17] and goalie Andrew Gartley [’17], have also been leading by example.
A: How do you guys navigate not having a coach?
JN: It’s tough, because it’s different when it’s one of your peers is yelling at you to get in the pool or step up on defense. It can be kind of easy to shrug it off at times. Also, none of us are really water polo experts, so we’re all learning from each other at practice, which can be tough. Erin has been a huge help at tournaments, because she can call plays and oversee line changes on the deck without having to go in and play herself. She’s also not afraid to yell at people if they mess up, which is really good. We definitely owe some of our success this season to her coaching.
A: As a club sport, how do you handle travel and funding?
JN: We try to get funding from the Student Budget Committee, although it remains to be seen whether they’ll agree to finance our potential trip to nationals. We also have generous parents who supply food at tournaments and have paid for buses in the past. We also pay a small fee individually for team suits and gear. It’s another thing that we have to figure out.
A: What other sport(s) would you compare water polo to?
JN: That’s a really difficult question. Water polo’s an interesting amalgamation of a lot of sports and it’s kind of hard to explain if you’ve never seen it played. If you combine soccer and basketball, put them the water, and add a touch of hockey, you’d get pretty close. The way you set up an offense is just like basketball, and the offense and defense go back and forth like that, but it feels more like soccer in the way that you dribble and pass. And I say hockey because you have penalties where you’re a man up or a man down, like power plays, which are always a huge part of the game.
A: What role does water polo play in your life?
JN: I’m kind of awkward on land. Like, I don’t play spike ball or volleyball and I feel uncoordinated, but I’m really comfortable in the water, so it’s always been a big part of my life and of my college experience. Water polo was the first sport I ever loved. I actually started swimming in high school so I could get better at water polo. I ended up jamming with the swim team in high school more than I did with the water polo team. But when I came here, the water polo kids were some of the first people I met. They were my first friends, and the upperclassmen were my first mentors here. Now, the team calls me ‘Uncle Joey’ or ‘Papa Nuc’: We’re definitely a family. Especially this season, I feel a lot of camaraderie; the team wants to go to Usdan together or just hang out as a group. There’s a huge social aspect. Also, we’re unofficially hinged to the swim team, because a lot of our players also swim here. So we’re always on the pool deck together, practicing in different parts of the pool. I love being on a team. It is nice, when you’re having a stressful week, with grades or friends or whatever, to have a constant rock. I love having a distraction and having something to put myself into and rally around, like getting better offensively, or beating Williams.
A: What are the advantages of water polo being a club sport? If it ever became a varsity sport, what would that change?
JN: We always say that water polo is a club sport with a varsity commitment, so we all take it really seriously. And despite the setbacks that not having a coach and being a club sport entail, it allows us to be completely self-governed, which leads to many of us taking leadership roles. We take care of all the hotels, we take care of transportation, and if someone is in trouble or needs help, it’s up to us. There’s not an adult to fall back on, and that makes the experience you get out of Wesleyan water polo really special and unique. It might become a varsity sport. It really depends on if we can get a coach. Also if it becomes a varsity sport, the bodies we get from swimming would be called into jeopardy. Because if water polo and swimming are varsity sports, even though their in different seasons, the swim coach would want his team swimming year round, and the water polo coach would want their players touching a ball every day. It would also call into question our being co-ed, which I absolutely love. Erin, who is our coach now, was our captain last year, it was so great to see her destroy these guys in the water, and see these guys emasculated by this monster of a water polo player. It’s the same this year with Naomi [Scharlin ’17], Lauren [Conte ’18], Corinne [Noonan ’18] all being awesome, awesome players for us.