Sunday, September 25, 2005

Water Polo

The UW club water polo team practices on Sunday and Tuesday nights. I started going about two weeks ago after being convinced by a fellow student in my post-bac program to try it out. I've always enjoyed water; I consider myself a decent swimmer; I've been trying to swim for exercise for several weeks now, but this is without a doubt the hardest workout I've ever had, wet or dry.

Coed water polo is a game played by web-toed demons and gilled Amazon warrior princesses. When your opponents are not punching you in the nose or kicking you in the tenders, they are actively trying to drown you. When you're not treading water, you're swimming as fast as you can. When you're not dying, you're wishing you were dead.

The game is brilliantly conceived: it's played only in deep water, so all players tread and/or swim the entire time; all players except goalies may only touch the ball with one hand at one time; when defending another player, you may not swim over the top of them in pursuit of the ball. When the offense suddenly becomes the defense, everyone swims as quickly as possible the other direction like extremely motivated salmon.

Now, while the purest notions of grace, agility, and athleticism are displayed above water, well over half the game is actually played underwater, where things are often ungentlemanly if not outright hostile. Your opponents will as often as not yank at your swimsuit or gently grab your ankle as you're trying to swim.

Generally, practice consists of the veterans performing feats of aquatic agility on one end of the pool while the newbies gasp our way through drills on the other. At this point I should make it clear that I'm the worst swimmer on the team, by a very long way, period. So at the last practice I desperately wanted to make up for that by at least making a good effort on the drills and hopefully demonstrating a powerful shot on goal from twenty feet out.

Except that my shots on goal went about five feet. When you throw a volleyball one-handed on dry ground, you can generate a little power by swiveling the hips and bending your elbow, almost like throwing a baseball but with a much larger ball and subsequently an adjusted grip. Trying that same technique in water, however, results in your torso sinking as you swivel, so that your elbow catches the surface, bends prematurely, and you release the ball at a ridiculously low angle. Remember too that the ball is wet and slippery. Water polo can make you look very uncoordinated very quickly, and I looked like a yutz out there.

But it's fun, especially when we actually scrimmage like at last Tuesday's practice. Because the veterans/best players are at a tournament tonight, last week the coach decided to get them some practice by playing some real shifts instead of doing drills. I played wing on one shift and point on another and got my sorry ass handed to me both times. On the wing I dropped a pass, recovered, and then threw a desperation pass back to the middle which fell short of my teammate but directly into the hands of an opponent. I saw nothing but elbows churning whitewater as the A team swam away from the B team thanks to my pass. Goal.

During the next shift I had point, which is similar to a point guard in basketball, and had some aqua-thoroughbred guarding me. Right after I caught the ball he swam up and tried to murder me. I managed to keep my left elbow up and squarely planted in his solar plexus for a few redeeming seconds, but he soon swam over me anyway. I swallowed pool on my way under and he got called for a foul, so I guess it was worth it.

Best workout ever, folks.

And yes, Dennis, we do get to wear the silly hats. Our ears would get bitten off if we didn't.


Blogger Sir Dennis said... - I want pictures of you in one of those hats - come on Paul you can do it.

8:00 PM  
Blogger Leta said...

My friend Andy plays water polo and loves it. I gotta send him this post.

3:21 PM  

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