How many people do you know that play water polo? The answer is more than likely no. The game is one of the most physical there is, and requires a great deal of endurance and coordination. Water polo is still a developing sport in the United States, as it is only played on the highschool level in 5 states. However, it has come to impact my life greatly. There was one game I won’t forget for a long, and it came in the playoffs this season. Thinking back, so many things could have gone better for us, but you can’t change the past, you can only ponder what you could’ve changed.
8:00 PM. It was the latest game we had all season, and by far the most important. “Possibly the biggest win for our school’s short history” I remember my coach saying. Being ranked 32nd, and playing the 9th team in state in a win-or-go-home game, doesn’t exactly bode well for team morale. We all had already counted ourselves out of the game. I threw out the idea, to just play as hard as you can for the seniors who are playing possibly their last game. Everyone agreed, but we could still feel the doubt on each others mind.
The moment we stepped out to the pool for the game, everything changed. The crowd, waving and roaring anxiously with excitement, gave everyone a boost of confidence. “We can win this game” our coach was telling us, pacing back and forth in front of us. “If you guys play the way I know you can, you will win this game.” The words echoed in our heads as we lined up for the start of the game, and I was ready for war. The ref lined up to the start, wearing all white, and had his whistle in his mouth. He held the ball over his head like it was a torch and he was the Statue of Liberty. He toyed the whistle with his mouth, then took a big breath in. Before I knew it, 12 kids were all-out sprinting to the middle of the pool. The ball plopped down in the middle, and Loyola’s swimmer swiped the ball and threw it back to his teammate. The water was brisk, so my senses were on high-alert. I could feel the players around me, grabbing and wrestling for position, struggling against one another as they beat their legs rapidly to stay above water. I grabbed my opponent as hard as I can, and keep him from driving or getting around me. Loyola kept the ball outside, passing it along the perimeter, back and forth, with accurate, crisp passes, one person having the ball for no more than two seconds. They tread up, and wait for us to make a mistake, and finally take the shot. He released the ball with such force I barely saw it whizz by my face, as it skipped off the water right in front of me, off the post behind me. Loyola spent most of their possessions like this, taking perimeter shots. Every time they came down on offense, it seemed as though their firepower was ready to explode into a barrage of goals, but we managed to hold them in check.
We have our first chance to come back and score, and I swim the ball up. The water is choppy, waves coming in and hitting me in odd intervals, and the chlorine burns in my eyes like fire as the splashes hit them. The defender comes up and bodies me, the two of us in a battle, locked up and grinding our way to the spot. I pump my legs to pass the ball off to a teammate, just barely getting enough on the ball for it to reach him. He caught it, and pulled the trigger with no hesitation. It’s all one motion, catching the ball, bringing it back around, and firing at the goal. The shot bounced off the water with scary velocity, and under the goalies outstretched arms. The ball hit the goal with a commanding ‘BANG’, and at that moment, I knew we could win the game.
Sadly, my confidence and pain was in vain, as Loyola would settle in and get in rhythm. Their scoring came in like a tsunami, and we just couldn’t hang with them. We gave them one of the best game that an 8 seed could give a 1 seed, but their raw talent was too much for us to overcome. In the end, we lost the game 15-11. Even with the loss, all of us were content with the way we all played, went out and left it all out there. It was sad that the season was over, but we knew that we had played the best game we could’ve. I won’t forget how exhilarating it was, the physicality, the cold water sending shivers down your spine, and the excitement of hearing the ball slam into the netting. Next year, I’m positive that each and every one of us will be looking forward and marking that game on our calendars.