Characterized by COVID-19 regulations, an undefeated season, and an eighth consecutive championship title, this year reflects a stunning juxtaposition to the one prior.
Last year’s season, or lack thereof, included ‘land swimming’ on Back Campus when pools were closed, two-week stints of practice prior to shutdowns, and team socials that were held virtually. Travel trips and tournaments were replaced by games of ping pong and Spikeball — a trivial pursuit of competition at a time when reality wasn’t conducive to contact sports.
The challenge of this year’s post-COVID-19 season was that of a brand-new team. Our team included many new Blues who had never experienced a real season at U of T, let alone a normal practice schedule.
Coming back to Toronto after a summer of futile attempts to stay in shape meant being thrown back into the swing of sports. The pressure of preparing for competition, coupled with the understanding that our biggest obstacle was learning how to work as a group, emphasized that we needed to establish trust to truly excel.
At the beginning of the year, my team and I met to discuss team goals. The objective was simple: win at the National Collegiate Water Polo Championships for the eighth season in a row.
This season attempted to piece together the debris left in the wake of the pandemic, resulting in an amalgamation of elements that once were considered “normal.” Rather than the normal season — during which we’d play each of the other universities’ women’s water polo teams — we were instead restricted to games against three universities. Parents watched our games through Facebook live streams, since in-person spectators were prohibited.
But through everything, we were reminded to “adapt, adapt, adapt,” focusing on what was coming next rather than dwelling on the past. Above all, we were a team. Beyond the scope of practices and games, more important than the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, I’ve found within this sport a group of people who have become family.
Our team has had to bounce back from multiple shutdowns, repeatedly pushing through the painstaking task of getting back in shape. With each new set of government regulations came the inevitable email that pools were closed and practices were cancelled, along with the unspoken, solemn understanding that all progress was lost.
Without a team as supportive and driven as mine, I’m not sure if I would have been able to do it. But knowing that my day would end with pre-practice conversations and post-practice fist bumps, surrounded by my teammates, was enough to push me through the most gruelling swim sets and frustrating days.
COVID-19 may have taken away my first-year season, our California trip, and any semblance of normalcy. It may be the cause of many injuries and a loss of endurance. But, in other ways, it created a group determined to make up for lost time — one whose dedication to the sport and commitment to defend a championship title was exactly what was needed to make it happen.
For that, I thank U of T and I thank my team — for the Sundays spent in Robarts after a week of nonstop practice, for the hours spent on transit getting to and from games, for keeping water polo fun, and for reminding me why I do it.