From Movie Nights to Practices, Women’s Water Polo Bonds

The Emory women’s water polo team competes against Vanderbilt University (Tenn.) in the Pumpkin Pie Palooza Tournament. Annie Uichanco/Staff

Lauren Treiman, a competitive swimmer of eight years, decided in eighth grade to try a sport with more depth. After attending some open water polo clinics at her local recreation center, she decided to take on another water sport, and quickly fell in love with its team aspect.

Now when asked about her favorite water polo shot, Treiman will school you on the many ways one can throw the water polo ball.

“I mean, there’s different types of shots,” Treiman said. “You got the lob shot, the skip shot. … I like a nice bar-in [shot] … [which] means [the ball] hits the bar and goes in the goal. … Those shots you don’t really plan. As my coach says, it’s the greatest shot you’ll ever be able to take.”

Treiman has clearly come a long way since her early days of water polo at those open clinics, and is now a sophomore utility player for Emory’s women’s water polo team, which welcomes players of all experience levels. Composed of mostly freshmen and sophomores, the team dove headfirst into their preseason, competing against teams from the Southeast Division of the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Club Conference.

The Eagles won two out of four matches at the University of Florida’s 25th Annual Fall Classic in Gainesville, Fla., Oct. 28 and 29. Two weeks later, they upped their game and proved successful in two out of three matches at the Emory Pumpkin Pie Palooza Fall Tournament at the WoodPEC Nov. 11 and 12.

“A lot of the Florida teams were really, really good,” team captain and senior center defender guard Lucy Baker said. “It always takes us a little bit of time to teach everyone how to play. As the season goes on from whenever we start in August to when we have our championship in April, the learning curve is so steep. At the end of it, you’ve got freshmen who are starting, and they feel so comfortable with the ball.”

The 2017-2018 team boasts 19 members. Head Coach Jocelyn Bilkey, who has been a part of the team since 2009, witnessed the team’s incredible growth over the past eight years.

“It’s a pretty amazing evolution,” Bilkey said. “When I first joined the team, there were a total of nine girls. … Pretty much everyone was playing, what we like to call ‘iron-womaning’ it. You don’t get any breaks. You don’t have any substitutes. I played every game, every minute of every freshman game out of necessity.”

Emory’s water polo spirit continues to grow and has even spread off-campus as the team strives to host more tournaments and help coach local high schools to bolster the water polo culture in the Atlanta area. Working with both men’s and women’s teams, the team believes in the importance of instilling a passion for water polo in the younger generation to promote the growth of the sport as a whole.

Water polo assumes a more sentimental role in the Emory players’ lives. According to Baker, some of the team’s best features are their group-bonding traditions and love for one another, both inside and outside their tri-weekly polo practices and tournaments. Before games, the Eagles warm up to a playlist of around 700 songs that has been updated by the team over the years. “Shots” by LMFAO and “All I Do is Win” by DJ Khaled are staples among the team’s starting lineup.

Other times, the team chooses to bond outside of the water.

“In the past couple of years, we’ve chosen to actually do a ‘cuddle puddle’ in the hotel room and just watch a movie,” Baker said. “Two weekends ago, it was Halloweekend, so everyone was going out, and instead, we stayed in and watched a scary movie.”

This year, the team watched “The Babadook.”

In addition to cozying up over horror flicks, the team watches footage from past games together, studying what went right or wrong during a match.

“The main reason why we watch game tape is to learn from our past mistakes, but there is something that we call ‘pool awareness,’” Baker said. “That’s just being aware of who has the ball, what they’re doing with the ball. … It’s so easy to just put your head down underwater and just swim. But if you have your head down, you’re missing everything else that’s happening in the pool. So many turnovers happen that way, so many missed opportunities on offense happen that way.”

At more than 6 feet deep, sometimes reaching up to 12 feet, the water can pose an exhausting threat to players who are not allowed to touch the ground at any point during each seven-minute period. To avoid penalty, players stay afloat using a special kick called an “eggbeater.” The swimmer alternates his or her legs in circular motions, keeping the upper body stable and allowing more freedom for arm movements.

Assistant Coach Juliana de la Rosa instructs the team. Courtesy of Caroline Cohen

Others dangers include the sheer physicality and aggressive nature that comes with any contact sport. Ask any water polo player in any position, and he or she will tell you about countless injuries that often result from kicks, punches and sneaky fouls that can happen underwater where the referee can’t see.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that you really have to be aggressive,” Treiman said. “When I was in the set, which is the most physical position [in front of the goal] … it [was] very aggressive. I mean, they’re holding you down. They’re grabbing you. They’re pulling your suit. They’re doing whatever [they] can because you’re in that primary position, so you have to be aggressive back.”

Bilkey anticipates the next semester with a desire for victory as well as dynamic improvement.

“My goal every year is to build a team of empowered women, and that’s where it all starts,” Bilkey said. “Empowered women both inside and outside the pool. Our second goal is to win a lot. … We’d love to place in the top three teams in our conference. … Last year we placed second, so our goal is to beat it. … But it all rests on ‘Am I still building a team that’s happy, healthy and empowered?’ That’s the number one goal.”

The Eagles jump back into the pool Feb. 25 and 26 at the University of Central Florida for the first qualifier tournament of the CWPA Southeast Division.

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