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Water polo soars to second place

Kristina De La Torre ’14 attempts a shot in game on Saturday, April 12. Photo by John Brady.

Grinnell’s women’s water polo team hosted the two-day Heartland Division Championship at the Russell K. Osgood Pool and finished in second place last weekend. The team won three games to advance to the final round, but fell short to Washington University in St. Louis 7-2. The Pioneers ended the season in second place in the conference with a 9-3 record, a significant improvement from last season’s record of 5-6.

With a victory against Augustana College by forfeit in hand, the Pioneers defeated Knox College 10-8 and St. Mary’s University in Minnesota 10-4 to reach the final round. Two weeks ago, Grinnell played Washington at a tournament held in St. Louis. Even though the Pioneers lost 9-7, Grinnell was able to size up the opponent in anticipation of their next meeting.

“We got a sense of how competition would go,” said Hayley Levin ’16. “We were excited that [the championship game] was so close. We thought that we had a chance of making it to the championship and even going all the way.”

Even though Grinnell recorded a loss, co-captains Sara Hannemann ’14 and Kristina De La Torre ’14 are proud of the improvement the team made from last year. They attribute this year’s success to the larger size of the team, along with other factors.

“My goal as captain of this team was to really get our numbers up,” Hannemann said. “My first year, we had eight or nine people on the team and there are seven people who play at a time, so we really didn’t have any subs. It’s just really hard to play well when you’re that exhausted.”

De La Torre added “[Going into the season] we had a lot of interest from underclassmen. We had a lot of young talent and we had soccer players coming in who really knew how to work with the ball and teamwork.”

Hannemann also believes the formation of a new water polo conference allowed teams to play against similar talent level, which helped Grinnell’s case.

“This season we [competed] only against schools with similar sizes, so we really had a shot at actually beating them and grow[ing] as a team, [which] we did,” she said. “We had more confidence because we knew we were going to be more evenly matched and we actually have a shot at winning the conference. Before, we didn’t have that chance.”

Kristina De La Torre ’14 attempts a shot in game on Saturday, April 12. Photo by John Brady.
Kristina De La Torre ’14 attempts a shot in game on Saturday, April 12. Photo by John Brady.

Since the Heartland Division only had one Nationals bid, Grinnell’s second place finish fell short of the mark.

Entering the tournament, even though the team was awarded the number two seed for Division Championship, the players knew the path to the final round would not be an easy one. Hence, their goal was to boost each other’s confidence.

“This tournament, we had pretty much everyone on the team taking shots,” Hannemann said. “We weren’t necessarily making all of them, but the idea of someone having the confidence to get the ball and shoot it [was important].”

Over spring break, the water polo team also traveled to Indiana for a meet, which helped them prepare for conference.

“We were going against high-quality programs, with a coach and a long history of success. So we did have a tournament where we [decided] to go play really good people and learn a lot,” Hannemann said.

With the help of coaches Austin Cote ’15 and Tim Sherwood ’16, many players improved tremendously over the course of the season. The team’s rebranding was another change the Pioneers went through. Mainly, the club changed their mascot from the Grinnell Black Sheep to the Grinnell Fireball.

“We have these beautiful, awesome polo suits that have a green dragon on them,” Hannemann said. “It’s breathing flaming water polo balls.”

Despite coming up short this year, the returning team members look forward to next year’s campaign.

“I’m excited for next season because we have a talented team,” Levin said. “And I think that the dedication level will steadily increase as the program keeps going.”

Hannemann encouraged anyone interested in water polo not to hesitate in joining the team.

“There are no cuts for the team,” she said. “Anyone can join. You don’t need any experience. We love the game and we love to teach people how to play.”

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