The average person does not understand the nuances of water polo. It requires much more than just mastering the art of swimming. Players must be physical, intimidating to opponents, and have the ability to score goals. It is a challenging sport, and SLU boasts one of the best Men’s Club water polo teams around.
Michael Nydegger, a junior on the team, explained the playing style: “It’s a lot like wrestling because there’s a lot of physical contact in the water, and the way you set up your offense and defense is much like the umbrella style of basketball.”
There are seven players per team in the game at any one time, with six of them being field players and one goalie, somewhat reminiscent of soccer.
Although the club water polo team was started in 2005, it disappeared for a year. Ray Kreienkamp, a graduate student, was part of the starting class that brought the team back in 2007 after that brief hiatus.
“Originally it was a co-ed team because we did not have enough guys and girls to have separate teams,” says Kreienkamp. “Since then we have generated enough participation to where there is a separate men’s team and women’s team.”
The men’s club water polo team has been a dominant force in the Missouri Valley Conference since the split. The Bills finished in the top spot in 2011 and second place in 2009, 2010 and 2012. In 2011, the Billikens finished 13th in the nation when they went to the National Championships in Atlanta.
This year, the men lost three key contributors but they look to have an extremely tough and experienced veteran class of players to lead them forward. There have also been some new additions to the team who will help in the push towards Nationals. According to Kreienkamp, “We have a great freshman class, one of the stronger classes in a while. And we had a few transfers as well, so we are looking forward to this new group of guys.”
After finishing behind Lindenwood University A for three of the past four years, the men were able to play strong against them in an early match this year even without some of their key players.
“The game against Lindenwood University is always the biggest game of the year for us. The past three years, the finals of the Missouri Valley Conference has always been SLU vs. Lindenwood,” senior Daniel Pike said. “So our regular season game against Lindenwood is always a nice way to see their team each year and try to learn their strengths and weaknesses.”
So far, the Bills are 3-1, only behind Lindenwood A and B and ahead of both Washington University and the University of Missouri. However, Nydegger and the team want that National Championship spotlight again.
“Since we’ve been [to Nationals] before and we’ve had experience, we not only want to make Nationals, we want to do well at Nationals.”
In order to get there, SLU will have to face tough tests next weekend against the Missouri Tigers and the Bulldogs of Truman State University before the playoffs begin October 26.