After winning their third straight year of OUA play, and earning five banners in eight years, the Varsity Blues women’s water polo teams’ large success and lack of recognition is a perfect example of U of T’s shortcoming to gather around organized sport. George Gross, the team’s coach, explains that this was due to a lack of awareness. “I think that we have what considered a ‘minor sport’ on the North American college radar so, by definition, our sport does not get a lot of media coverage even on the campus. So the first step is to increase the regular coverage in the varsity and get the results off to the radio station on campus and the next part of it is to have our players start initially being a little more committed to getting the friends of theirs that aren’t in water polo out to watch them play.”
At second glance, this is a larger problem. Rosalee Lorraine Brown, one of the team’s veterans explains the stigma around the water polo at the university itself. “The stereotype is that ‘we don’t win anything’ every banner ceremony I’ve been to, the women’s golf and field hockey teams have been there too. I’m sure the ceremonies for spring are similar. But no one realizes it. So here I am tearing my hair out about how many Instagram posts the football and basketball teams get during their training camp and the hype around each game with a mascot and all… and then how we get a shoutout on Twitter if we’re lucky.”
The team couldn’t be performing better. Brown days that, “we have a team cohesion that’s pretty unique. We’ve been fortunate enough to get along with each other generally. We have some true talent and many years of experience between us as well. It’s just a ton of fun, we have a blast together.”
The OUA Championship this weekend highlighted the team’s younger talent. “Megan MacCormac, [a first year] from Ottawa. She scored a hat trick in the semi-final and two goals in the final and she picked up a lot of the slack when Emily Bidinosti went down with an injury. And as well Ana Miroslavic who is our centre check, centre defense she had a very strong year shutting down the opposing teams’ forwards, as well as scoring lots of goals on the counter attack,” describes Gross.
Despite these great accomplishments, Brown can’t help but contrast water polo’s significance in Canada to that of the States. “The water polo culture in California is very different,” she says adding that, “the community is a thousand times bigger and you get lost in the crowd. Here everyone knows one another. That isn’t always necessarily a good thing though, I like not knowing any of our opponents. I miss polo at home, there’s something about playing in outdoor pools that reminds me of my passion for the sport.”
But if any part of this season has demonstrated anything, it’s that the team is one to look out for. “We’re going to improve our recruiting again,” reflects Gross. “We’re in the midst of a very aggressive recruiting campaign so that’s the first step we need to work on. The second part will be taking the players that we have and integrating them so that they play more rhythmically as a unit.”
Looking at the bigger picture, the team one day hopes to compete outside of just Ontario. Speaking on behalf of all the coaches in the OUA schools, Gross adds that, “We’ve [OUA coaches] put together a plan a year ago and that is geared around adding three women’s teams within five years.”