Women’s polo continues to grow

As the swim season draws to a close, women’s water polo is taking to the pool in preparation for their spring season. After only three practices in the water and a chalk talk, the team traveled to Middlebury for their first scrimmage on Saturday. In addition to marking the beginning of this year’s season, this was the first game experience for many of the Williams women. Both the Williams and Middlebury teams are predominately made up of players new to the sport, reflecting the growing popularity of women’s water polo on the east coast, so the game was a great learning experience for everyone involved. Because both teams are so large, six periods were played instead of the typical four in order to allow everyone ample playing time.

For people who have never played polo before, the rules and strategies seem to be a combination of basketball, soccer, and hockey – all in the pool. Most games are comprised of four seven-minute quarters and usually last about an hour. In addition to the goalie, there are six players in the water at a time that alternate between offense and defense. These players are allowed to pass and swim with the ball, but they must catch, throw, shoot and hold the ball with only one hand at a time. The game is very fast paced and physically taxing, as each team races back and forth down the pool attempting to score on the opposing team’s goal. With the crossover between the swim and water polo teams, Williams’ speed helps make up for the team’s inexperience in other areas of the game.

Jon Wiener ’02 coached the women the past two seasons, but returned to California after the fall season. The seniors now run practices from the pool.

The team is lead by four returning seniors this season: captains Cara Cipriano ’03 and Sarah Klionsky ’03, Amy Graham ’03 and Laurel Hensley ’03. Over the past two seasons, Hensley has been developing her goalkeeping skills, and she made many spectacular saves on Saturday. “Laurel has been an invaluable asset to our team over the past few years,” Cipriano said. “She stepped up to fill the goalie position as a junior and really surprised us all with her skill. She’ll be hard to replace at the end of this year.”

“It’s nice to be the only goalie on the team because I can completely concentrate on the position,” Hensley said. “I definitely have a different perspective on the game than the other players in the water because I can see where the offense, defense and ball are.” Unlike most of the women on the team, who joined the sport for the first time at Williams, Cipriano played competitive polo through middle and high school and brings valuable experience to the team both in and out of the pool. “It’s been fun watching this team develop, and I’m hoping that the women’s water polo program will continue to grow in the coming years,” she said.

Despite fielding only one junior, Emily Steinhagen ’04, the team looks to have a strong future. Robin Kim ’06, Michelle Lee ’06 and Tessa Munekiyo ’06 are all veterans of the sport, and the rest of the freshmen are learning skills at an impressive pace.

18 women made the trip to Middlebury and played very well against players with comparable or more experience; they are sure to continue to improve rapidly with more practice time. Louise Kushner ’06, a newcomer to the sport, remarked, “It was my first game and although it was a little scary at first, I had a blast.”

“I’m really excited about the potential of this year’s team,” Cipriano said. “While we don’t have a whole lot of previous experience, there’s so much enthusiasm and raw talent among the players. Everyone’s catching on remarkably fast, and in the coming years, this freshman class could develop into one of the better club teams in New England.”

Last spring the Ephwomen participated for the first time in the New England club water polo league and were very competitive with teams such as Middlebury, Wesleyan and Holy Cross. The team traveled to tournaments at Yale, Holy Cross and MIT, playing three or four games at each tournament and gaining valuable game experience. In addition to league play, a highlight of the season was an overtime victory over the Lady Jeffs at Amherst.

Due to scheduling conflicts, the team could not join the league this season, but Williams will be playing games against other New England teams. Williams plans on participating in a Little Three tournament at Wesleyan and is hoping to host a game against Wellesley College after spring break.

Everyone, experienced or not, is welcome to come play water polo. This spring, the women’s team will be practicing three to five afternoons a week. If you are interested in playing, contact Klionsky (03smk) or Cipriano (03cac_2).