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The Scarlet & Black

Wild Turkeys gobble to fourth at Nationals

After a strong showing in the regular season, the Grinnell Men’s Water Polo team, the Wild Turkeys, placed fourth in the Nation during the 2011 Division III Club Championship at Hamilton College in New York, their highest finish at the tournament in recent years.

Washington University in St. Louis won first, with Bowdoin College taking second and Monmouth College placing third.

Grinnell’s success at Nationals was not a surprise to team members, but they knew that their success was by no means ensured. They had difficult opponents in the bracket, and their first game was against New York University, the second highest ranked team in the tournament.

“NYU was supposed to roll over us,” said Team Co-Captain Beck Ringdahl-Mayland ‘13. “They’re kind of a large school, and it was basically their home turf.  I think they went into the game thinking that they were just going to beat us, but in the first few minutes, we came out with three goals, which got them scared.”

“At one point, we were up seven to two, and eventually it went into overtime.  We ended up winning by one goal,” said Team Co-Captain Sam Sherwood ’12.

“I think that the NYU game was the best game we played all season,” Beck said. Sherwood added that it might have also been the best game he had seen during his four-year career at Grinnell.

The team could not quite pull off similar upsets against their higher seeded opponents a second time, losing by five goals to Bowdoin College during the second round.

“We got beat by one guy on Bowdoin,” Ringdahl-Mayland said.  “They had a very good player, but if we had played them again, I think that it would have been a much closer game.”

After that, the team lost in the final round of competition to their Heartland Division foe Monmouth College, giving them a fourth place finish.  In four games against Monmouth this year, Grinnell was never able to defeat them.

“We beat the number two seed, and then we had to play the number three seed.  After that, we had to play the number one seed,” Ringdahl-Mayland said.  “We clearly had a very difficult road, but we still had the highest finish we’ve had in years.”

Monmouth was one of the only teams that Grinnell consistently struggled against this season.  Grinnell’s Heartland Division record was 5-3, with a second place showing in the championship held at the end of October.  They defeated Knox by six goals and decimated Augustana twenty to seven, before falling to Monmouth.

The team was especially pleased by these results, because it has shown a great amount of progress in talent and skill.

“We’re an interesting group of polo players, because only a few of us have had experience with the sport before Grinnell,” said Sherwood, who explained that water polo requires skill in swimming and ball control, which can only be developed gradually over time.

Next year, most of the starters will be gone—some will graduate and some will be studying abroad—complicating efforts to prepare for the next season.

“It will be an interesting year, I think,” Ringdahl-Mayland said. “I’m excited to see who we get from the upcoming first years, because it would be nice to have some players who are familiar with polo.  However, we don’t actively recruit, so we never know what we’ll get.  It’s all the luck of the draw.  We’re losing lots of people who played in high school, so we will definitely have to practice harder.”

The team sees their other rivals encountering some similar difficulties, though, so they hope for a stronger showing and more success when they start back up in 2012.

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