Sports / The Prairie Fire / October 19, 2016

Water Polo shoots for Nationals


Sophomore goalie and captain Joe Hilger makes a save during practice. (Julian Blye/TKS)

Sophomore goalie and captain Joe Hilger makes a save during practice. (Julian Blye/TKS)

Practicing for over two hours a day during the week and putting in extra time on weekends, the Water Polo Club team at Knox works just as hard, if not harder, than most official school teams.

Senior and captain of the team Clarice Bernett thinks this is because of where their practices are held.

“It’s really hard to gain visibility because the place we practice is so hidden from the rest of campus,” Bernett explained.

The Lay Natatorium Pool, located in the T. Fleming Fieldhouse, is not even regulation size, also making it impossible for Knox to host any Water Polo tournaments against their conference opponents.

This, in addition to the fact that they do not even have a webpage through Knox that updates the school or community on their performances, makes it difficult to garner any type of attention from the Knox populace.

This makes it easy to ignore the team’s recent resurgence. The team’s “glory days” were nearly a decade ago, after which the team lost many standout players.

Since Water Polo is a club team at Knox, the practices are run by the captains. Bernett, who played Water Polo during high school, usually leads the team in stretches, warmups, drills and strategizing.

“Because I had four years of experience coming into Knox, I was already at an advantage with leading practices and teaching how the game should be played. It was a natural transition, really.” Bernett said.

In the past, Professor of Economics Jonathan Powers would coach the Water Polo teams, but recently switched to more of an advisory role. This had to happen because he is already the Swimming and Diving team’s coach, and he could not continue coaching both the official school teams and a club team.

The captains now hold the keys to the entire team’s operation, making this an even more team-oriented sport for the individuals who participate.

Bernett explained that every player will get out whatever they put in, as nobody is forcing them to come to every practice or drill session like a team with a coach.

In the past couple of years, the team has been steadily improving upon its finishes at tournaments. Part of the Heartland Division, the women’s team finished in second place at the conference tournament last spring.

“This year we are going for first, and we are trying to advance to nationals. You advance only if you win your conference,” Bernett said.

The co-ed team, which plays together during Fall Term, has two additional captains, who Bernett describe as “captains in-training.” These players, sophomores Joe Hilger and Emma Newman, are perfect representations of the bright future this team has.

Sophomore captain Emma Newman takes a shot during a practice drill. (Julian Blye/TKS)

Sophomore captain Emma Newman takes a shot during a practice drill. (Julian Blye/TKS)

Fall Term is “open,” which is a men’s division, but women can also participate. “We play teams that are all men with our mixed team, while I was the only male starter this season,” Hilger said. Hilger excitedly reported that the team is still able to compete against these teams, even winning plenty of games.

Spring Term is the women’s season, which Newman is looking forward to because of the “crazy amount of talent on the team this year.”

Still, it sometimes frustrates players on the team how little recognition Knox Water Polo receives.

“Last year, a couple women went All-Conference. When I played in high school that was a huge deal. None of my friends knew what that was. Many of them didn’t even know I was on the Water Polo team,” Newman said.

Bernett agrees, understanding that recognition is not why they play, but it would be nice to be celebrated for their hard work and achievements.

Whether they continue to go unnoticed or not, the women’s team is determined to accomplish their goal of reaching Nationals this Spring Term.

However, because they have rebuilt the program with such a strong young core, Bernett knows that even if they do not reach Nationals in her final season they have a strong chance sometime soon.

“If we don’t make it this year, I really do want to see the women’s team go to nationals. I’ve put so much into this team and bringing it back to where it is now, so seeing that would just make me so unbelievably proud.”



Jonathan Schrag, Managing Editor
Jonathan Schrag is a junior majoring in Political Science and double minoring in Educational Policy Studies and History. He has been writing for TKS since Fall Term of his freshman year and has contributed to News, Sports and Discourse. He served as the Sports editor during his sophomore year and has won several awards from the Illinois Collegiate Press Association.

Tags:  clarice bernett club sports emma newman joe hilger jonathan powers Knox club sports Knox Water Polo

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