With no winning seasons in the last 14 years, women’s water polo is hoping a new coach and a fresh incoming class can change that.
Head coach Barry King assumed the program’s top role after former head coach Adam Foley resigned last May. King is now the third person to coach the team’s group of seniors in their four-year career.
“You know the girls in your class, so instead of relying on coach to show up and do above and beyond what the last guy did, you just rely on your teammates and work harder with them,” senior attacker Jacqueline Bywater said.
During the fall, King led men’s water polo to its first conference championship in program history. But after nearly two decades of women’s water polo coaching experience at Indiana, he said leading the women has been easier for him.
King said he approached the new program with a blank-slate mentality – claiming he wouldn’t use what he previously knew about the team so the players don’t see him as “the mean guy from the other bench.”
Instead, he said once the players get comfortable they have the opportunity to be more competitive against teams they lost to last year.
“What we’re really trying to do is to be a better team in April than we are right now,” King said. “And if we can do that we can progress and then again be competitive and win some games that maybe we haven’t in the past and that’s really what we’re shooting for.”
Players said King’s free-flowing style of coaching has allowed players to feel more comfortable in the pool and play to their strengths more than in past years.
“The way that Barry is coaching us we definitely have a lot more chemistry in the pool,” junior goalkeeper Katherine Moeller said. “Instead of running plays this year he’s going to rely a lot on team chemistry and for us to carry ourselves through plays and create opportunity for ourselves.”
Last season’s 13-19 record was an improvement from the year before, but players said they see more skill and potential on the current roster. GW returns all seven players who scored more than 10 goals last year and both of the team’s top goalkeepers.
“A lot of these east coast schools drop their programs because they don’t win or they’re only a Title IX team and they’re not really focused on winning,” Bywater said. “I think that this could be a program that could compete and be a name in water polo.”
In order to win more games, the Colonials will be looking at their six-person incoming freshman class to fill in the gaps. Senior players said their new teammates have been impressive so far and will allow them to play a deeper roster.
GW has only one home game on its schedule against Princeton Feb. 24. Veteran Colonials players said part of supporting the freshmen and allowing them to get accustomed to the college game means helping them understand the experience of the season before it starts.
“We’ve tried to kind of warn the freshmen that it’s going to be different, not sleeping in your own bed and bringing your studies to wherever we go,” senior utility player Scarlett Hallahan said. “For the underclassmen, it’ll be a little more challenging but it’s nothing new for the rest of us.”
With a deeper roster, King said he will look for his team to be more aggressive – using their swimming abilities to defend the entire pool. In order to maintain that style of play, King said they will look to substitute players more often.
To attain the necessary fitness level, the Colonials hit the weight room and focused on conditioning before getting in the pool. Now, as the beginning of the season gets closer, the players said they are ready to start playing competitively again.
“Preparing is kind of a grueling process sometimes,” Hallahan said. “But to actually get out there and play and turn what we’ve been working hard on into real life is going to be exciting.”
Hallahan – who was the team’s leading scorer with 71 goals to her name last season – said she wants to leave a legacy in her final season playing the sport.
“I’m just excited to give everything I have and hopefully leave some kind of mark here when I leave,” she said.
The Colonials begin their season this weekend at the Bucknell Invitational. They will play against Siena and Gannon Saturday and Bucknell and Saint Francis Sunday.