Featuring only one senior and twice as many underclassmen as upperclassmen, the Macalester water polo team is one of the youngest on campus. Although this abundance of youth could have potentially led to some leadership problems, the team has experienced no such struggles. According to Head Coach Jennie Charlesworth, the younger players have stepped up and shared the leadership burden amongst one another. “There’s not really one leader on the team. [The players] all have their own roles and help lead in those aspects…they all work together well and make it work.”
Goalie Anya Phillips ’15 (Geneva, FL) agreed with her coach, citing the team’s small 12-person contingent as a reason why older leadership isn’t necessarily required to give the team direction. “Because we’re so small, [we] don’t need a large upperclass contingent to lead. We have one captain from each class, except freshmen, so leadership is shared amongst everyone. And we all know each other well so it’s easier for leadership to be shared.”
While also enabling leadership to blossom more easily, the team’s lack of numbers also comes with an obvious drawback. “The disadvantage of having a small team is that we’re exhausted at the end of games,” utility player Rachel Harrington-Abrams ’14 (Berkeley, CA) said. “When [you] play teams that have three strings of people, you can’t beat [them] if you’re just too exhausted. But having a small team works for us, because we communicate so well and know each other so well.”
Furthermore, the fact that there are only 12 players on the squad enables the coaching staff to devote more time teaching some of the more inexperienced players the nuances of the game.
“We get some of the swimmers every year who have never played water polo or been exposed to it, but see the men play in the fall and see us practice in the spring and are intrigued by the sport,” Charlesworth said. “Because of our roster size, we’re able to take those players on and teach them the game.”
Harrington-Abrams and Phillips were quick to laud the swimming abilities of their teammates that have a limited background in water polo. “We have the disadvantage that a lot of our players have never played before, but that comes with the advantage that they’re really strong swimmers.”
“A lot of our team are swimmers, so they’ve just come off a season of being in really good shape,” Phillips added. “And most of the others have been swimmers in the past, so they know how to condition their body in that way.” This high level of endurance and fitness has been crucial in a schedule that featured a Spring Break trip to two tournaments in two states, all in a 10-day span from March 15-24.
Cal Baptist Tournament
The Scots struggled to a 0-8 record in the 3Cal Baptist Tournament, which served as the team’s first Spring Break stop. The team played against elite competition in this six-day event (March 15-20), losing games to Division 1 Iona and Virginia Military Institute by a combined 32-7 score. Charlesworth pointed out that such schools are at an inherent advantage, as they are able to award athletic scholarships and “other recruiting advantages that allow them to pull from a wider base of athletes.” Despite Macalester’s recruiting limitations, the coach said she still found great value in the tournament.
“We used it as a learning experience. Each game our offense got better, each game our defense got better, and that was great preparation to go to our conference tournament. It’s nice to see that we can get close, to be three or four goals away from a top-10 team in the country.”
Even though the team may have been a little overmatched in the tournament, losing all of their matches by four goals or more, the players seemed to share their coach’s assessment. Harrington-Abrams said she believes that the high skill of these opponents will make conference play much less intimidating.
“It’s really hard in the beginning [since] our first games are against teams that have been playing all year and are really intense about water polo, but it makes facing our own conference a lot easier.”
The tournament was also a homecoming of sorts for many Scots, as half of the team hails from California. This high percentage of players from the Golden State is not a coincidence, as the team schedules a trip to California each Spring Break to help with recruiting.
“California is the hotbed for water polo,” Charlesworth said. “Being out there is a good recruiting tool. We can tell the kids from there we’re trying to entice that their parents will be able to see them play. Out of the five girls we have from California, all of their parents came to see us play.”
Right after wrapping up the Cal Baptist Tournament, the Scots hopped on a plane and flew to Erie, PA to compete in the CWPA Tournament (March 22-24). Macalester experienced a lot more success in Pennsylvania than they did in California, finishing the three-day tournament with a 3-3 record, all against conference competition. Although Macalester is traditionally a MIAC school, the Scots are a part of the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) because the MIAC does not have water polo.
After dropping their first game against Washington & Jefferson (PA) 12-4, the Scots proceeded to win three of their next four matches by an average score of 11.3 to 5.3. Utica (NY), Penn State-Behrend and Carthage (WI) were all victims to the Scots’ sudden surge in scoring. Despite the improvement in record, Harrington-Abrams felt like the team could have done more. “Even the games we lost we felt like we could beat those teams,” Harrington-Abrams said.
Indeed, the Scots lost by three-goal margins to Grove City (PA) 11-8 and Connecticut College 10-7. Had a few more shots gone their way against these two opponents, the team would have finished the tournament with a 5-1 record heading into this weekend’s CWPA/Carthage Tournament.
That said, there were certainly many positives to be taken from this tournament. Utility player Sarah Shoemaker ’15 (Saratoga, CA) scored 16 goals in six games, while center-forward Adrienne Burgin ’15 (Walnut Creek, CA) added another 15 goals. Furthermore, the team averaged 8.8 goals a game in Erie, up from their 5 goals a game average they posted in California.
The team next travels this weekend (April 5-7) to Carthage, WI, competing in their third tournament of the year. In light of the team’s recent successes, Charlesworth is confident that the Scots can put together a good showing against the same conference teams they played in Erie.
“This tournament we have six games, and we would like to come out with six wins,” Charlesworth said. “The players know the mistakes they’ve made in the games we’ve played. As long as we attack in every aspect of the sport, we have a good chance of coming out with six wins.”
Phillips is similarly optimistic about the team’s chances in Wisconsin. “I really think what we achieve depends on our mental attitude, because I think we can beat any team in the conference if we come at it with the right mental attitude,” she said. “It’s kind of hard to necessarily say that, but I see a lot of positives going into this weekend.”
The team’s first tournament match is against host Carthage on Friday, April 5.