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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    No coach? No problem

    Arizona club water polo players protect their goal during a tournament in Logan, Utah, last weekend, which they swept. This weekend they will take to the pool at the Student Recreation Center for the UA-hosted Cactus Classic.
    Arizona club water polo players protect their goal during a tournament in Logan, Utah, last weekend, which they swept. This weekend they will take to the pool at the Student Recreation Center for the UA-hosted Cactus Classic.

    Behind every great team stands a great coach. Just ask a squad that’s captured eight of its last 10 division titles, has had a top-five ranking five years running and has one of the most winning athletic traditions at Arizona.

    And they would just laugh.

    This is the Arizona men’s water polo club. They are one of the best teams you’ve never heard of, and they are entirely self-coached.

    “”My favorite part is the look on the other team’s face after a coachless team just swam them into the ground for four quarters,”” said senior Alex Kane, the team’s president.

    As if water polo wasn’t challenging enough.

    This is soccer meets basketball meets wrestling meets Olympic swimming.

    To succeed, a player needs the vertical of a volleyball star, the over-arm accuracy of a baseball pitcher, and the toughness of a rugby player. Fourteen of these Arizona students engage in the figurative submarine warfare that is the sport of water polo.

    The Cactus Classic
    Student Recreation Center
    Free
    Friday at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

    Saturday at noon and 1 p.m. with possible games on Sunday

    “”Water polo is played in a deep-water pool, so not only do you have to swim long distances, but you never get a rest, along with the fact that there is always someone right there to drown you or kick you in the gut if you don’t do it to them first,”” said Kane, who picked up the sport in the seventh grade.

    “”It takes a lot out of you, so if you’re not in top shape, odds are you’re going to drown or throw up from exhaustion,”” he said later.

    In a sink-or-swim sport, the Wildcats not only survive; they thrive. For Kane, the squad’s self-coached success in a grueling sport is a point of pride.

    Where the cynic might see a chance for clashing egos and chaos, the Wildcats have created a well-oiled, self-directed machine.

    “”We simply have a few rules to stick by,”” Kane said. “”If you’re late, go home. If you’re arguing with a teammate, go home. If you do anything else, you’re swimming fly (a very strenuous training stroke) until you stop doing whatever it is.””

    Giving direction to the enterprise is two-time All-American and 2004 National Player of the Year Eric Qualls, who has the final say in strategy and playing time. According to Qualls, ego isn’t an issue.

    “”We all do our best to make things run smoothly,”” he said. “”Everyone knows how difficult it is to have a self-coached team, and they all accept the roles they have been given, which makes my job a lot easier.””

    Junior David Jacobs, who assists Qualls in coordinating practices, said: “”The team wholly respects Eric’s decisions.””

    Not that the water doesn’t ever get choppy.

    “”After a very disappointing loss in the national championship game my freshman year, it became apparent that winning a national championship would require us to put our egos aside,”” Jacobs said.

    The system has worked in the past and this year is no exception. The Wildcats are rolling as usual, sweeping last weekend’s tournament in Logan, Utah, by winning all four games.

    Now the squad looks ahead to this weekend’s 17th annual Cactus Classic, where the team will face a collection of non-college “”masters”” squads from across the country, including an Arizona Alumni team.

    The Wildcats, the youngest team in the tournament, according to Kane, expect to be outsized but plan to use their speed to outmaneuver the competition. Arizona’s two squads play Friday at 5 and 6 in the evening and Saturday at noon and 1 p.m. at the Student Recreation Center with possibly more games Sunday to be announced.

    Jacobs said he hopes some of his peers will come out to catch this unique Arizona squad in action during this weekend’s tournament, which is free to the public.

    “”If students want to watch Wildcats actually win, water polo is a great choice,”” he said.

    Said Qualls, “”Water polo is a great sport to watch, with a constant upbeat tempo similar to hockey.””

    However, crowds or not, Jacobs and his teammates will be there to play the sport they love.

    “”As any athlete will tell you, varsity or not, it is for the love of the game,”” Jacobs said. “”Considering no college athlete gets paid other than Reggie Bush, the rest of us do it because we love it.

    “”It fulfills a need you can’t get anywhere else.””

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