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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Women’s water polo to become UA sport

    The world of Arizona Athletics is about to get bigger, as Division I women’s water polo may be splashing down for its inaugural season as early as spring 2009.

    “”It actually has been a long time in the making,”” said senior associate athletic director Rocky LaRose. “”We’ve wanted to add another sport for women for some time, and we feel that now’s the time that’s appropriate.””

    Women’s water polo would join women’s soccer, started in 1994, and women’s indoor track and field, started in 1998, as the most recent additions to Arizona’s varsity sports.

    LaRose said that the recent approval by the Arizona Board of Regents to make improvements to the aquatics facilities makes the timing ideal for the creation of a varsity water polo team. The new diving well that will be added to the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center will also have the dimensions needed for water polo.

    LaRose said completion of the planned improvements is the “”primary consideration”” that will affect when the women’s water polo team will begin competition. The plan now is to hire a coach next spring to begin recruiting for the 2008-09 school year.

    But delays in construction could potentially delay the process. Still, LaRose maintains that women’s water polo will arrive on the scene sooner, rather than later.

    “”It won’t be any later than 2010,”” she said.

    In the meantime, Arizona is home to a strong women’s water polo club team that has laid something of a foundation for women’s water polo at the university.

    “”I know that there’s a lot of talent on our club team,”” LaRose said.

    The club’s “”A”” and “”B”” teams began their seasons finishing first and second, respectively, in their first tournament of the year, the Cactus Classic, hosted by Arizona Nov. 17-19. Team president Lauren Silva said in an e-mail that she’s optimistic for the rest of the season, which culminates in the national championships in May.

    Although the addition of varsity water polo would undoubtedly change the landscape, or perhaps seascape, of women’s water polo at Arizona, the club team feels more excited than threatened by the news.

    “”We are pretty excited to hear that this will finally be happening,”” said Silva, a senior.

    Team coach Emily Schmit, who is a student at the James E. Rogers College of Law, has been in conversations with LaRose about the transition process. Schmit does not feel that the varsity water polo will threaten the existence of the club team.

    According to Schmit, who played Division I water polo as an undergraduate at Indiana, the difference between club and varsity sport is enough that each team will maintain a separate identity.

    “”They’re going to appeal to different types of people, “” Schmit said. “”(Varsity)’s like a job. You’re spending at least 20 hours a week working out… You’re really dedicating your life to the sport.””

    However, Schmit said she expects that some of the club’s better athletes will plan to try out as walk-ons for the new team. She feels that her players are definitely capable of making the jump from club to varsity water polo.

    Despite any losses of personnel, Schmit said that the addition of water polo will enrich not only the campus but the Tucson community as well, where water polo is not prominently played at the high school level.

    “”Tucson will reap the benefits of this team,”” Schmit said.

    In addition to developing water polo in Tucson, the varsity team will help develop the sport in the Pac-10 as well. Women’s water polo is currently popular in the Pac-10, which fields five D-I water polo teams but needs a sixth to compete in their own league. The Pac-10 teams currently participate as part of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Arizona’s team will allow the Pac-10 to hold its own championship, as well as give the conference an automatic qualifier in the NCAA Championships for its champion.

    Women’s water polo is also a Title IX sport. This means the team will be considered in Arizona’s Title IX compliance.

    Title IX, a federal law passed in 1972, makes it illegal for any educational group or activity that receives federal financial assistance to discriminate on the basis of sex. There are three basic components to Title IX compliance: proportionate athletic financial assistance, accommodation of the athletic interests and abilities of men and women, and equivalent facilities, equipment, benefits, etc. between men’s and women’s sports. Schools must demonstrate sufficient progress towards meetings these components to be considered compliant.

    “”Schools are constantly being scrutinized under Title IX,”” Schmit said. “”But Arizona’s really good, they’re definitely moving towards that equality. That’s what (athletic director) Jim (Livengood) and Rocky are trying to do in seeing that men and women are both receiving the same amounts of funds.””

    “”You can say it’s Title IX pushing it, or you can say it’s the right thing to do,”” Schmit added.

    LaRose said that the women’s water polo team will not affect the scholarships and funding of other sports – men’s or women’s.

    “”We want to fund everybody to be able to be successful and achieve a national championship,”” LaRose said. “”If we felt this was going to have an impact on our other programs, we wouldn’t do it at this time.””

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