The University of Indianapolis has a variety of club sports, and the water polo team is a more recent addition to that list. According to UIndy Athletics, the university started a new club sports initiative in the fall of 2022 to promote club registered student organization sports to regular club sports. According to an article from The Reflector, the water polo started as a club in 2015 and transitioned into a club sport RSO in 2019 according to another article from The Reflector. The water polo team has made some advancements in regard to their abilities and funding offered to them by the university. This allows them to compete in the Missouri Valley division designated by the Collegiate Water Polo Association.
Due to the initiative, the water polo team can offer stipends to players now, providing incentives to players according to UIndy Athletics. According to Head Coach Alexander Wladherr, the small bit of financial aid they are able to provide is a great aspect that the university is providing backing for, knowing that club sports are important for retention and keeping people interested in attending all four years.
“I think that that’s a very unique thing, but also really shows how UIndy puts value on club sports programs, knowing that they contribute to retention of students at UIndy and keeping people around until they graduate,” said Waldherr. “And really creating a fabric for people to feel like they’re truly a part of campus. I think that that’s an excellent step, but it’s something that we, as the water polo team, have only had access to for a little over a year and a half at this point. So it’s still in its very early days.”
According to Waldherr, before the pandemic, the water polo team had a lot of engagement from students, having almost enough participation to have two separate teams for men’s and women’s. However, there are some struggles for the team, but it is not due to lack of talent or skill, said Walderr.
“I do think that a lot of the difficulty that we’ve had with competing at this point is not necessarily due to a skill deficit or because the teams that we’re facing are significantly better than us,” said Waldherr. “But they have subs and we’ve been playing what I refer to as gladiator water polo for our entire existence, which is the idea that you’re playing water polo with basically the one sub that you need to have to play the game.”
According to sophomore and water polo team co-captain Anthony Finch he found that the aid of the club sport initiative allowed support and draw to the water polo team from freshman that did not exist last year because he was the only first year when he joined. There were three freshmen to join this year, and that was able to allow the team some ease, said Finch.
“I was the only freshman on the water pool team last year, and it’s grown from that to have three freshmen that were on club sports stipends,” said Finch. “So we had that support come into the team that we really didn’t have in the previous year with the lack of participants, team members. So I think having that and being able to rely on each other more or, and be less concerned of who we have on the team and more focused on what we can do as a team became a turning point this year.”
According to Finch and Waldherr, increased visibility is a goal they and the team have for the sport of water polo. In Indianapolis and Indiana generally, water polo is not a high school sport, said Finch. According to Waldherr, a majority of people who join the team with previous experience are joining from out-of-state. This means that the club sports initiative that allows them to keep the club and participate in competitions can create a sense of community and family, said Waldherr.
“When we have folks that come to UIndy with the intent to play water polo and be a part of our team they know that they have a family on campus before they even get here, and that’s an awesome thing to be able to promise people is that you have a place that you belong before you even set foot on campus,” said Waldherr. “And I think that that’s really comforting and important for students who are leaving behind a lot of what they knew before, especially for our water polo athletes, and Indiana does not have high school water polo. All of our folks that come in with water polo experience who have the intent to play water polo at UIndy are coming from out of state. So it’s very important that they have that feeling of belonging when they are far from home.”
According to Finch, he is one of the students with previous experience that is not from the state of Indiana. The promotion of the water polo team from an RSO to a club sport was a benefit and something he kept in mind when thinking about applying to the university, said Finch.
“The opportunity that Indianapolis or the University of Indianapolis gives us with this sport becoming a club, I think was a big reason I did come to this college,” said Finch. “Because of my love for the sport and wanting to continue. maybe not at D2 level, but in some capacity.”
An opportunity that the team took advantage of recently was volunteering to help play host with the USA Water Polo KAP7 Champions Cup, said Waldherr. According to Waldherr, it was a great opportunity to not only expand their reach and recognition of water polo to Indianapolis but to also receive equipment such as shot clocks in order to host tournaments in Indiana in the future.
“That allows us to host here in Indianapolis and grow the sport here instead of having to travel and go to places like Saint Louis or Arkansas or Ohio to play water polo because of how small it is here in Indianapolis,” said Finch. “And that’s another goal we have kind of made as a team: to not only win and be successful but involve the community and as much as we can in a state where it is very unrecognized in high school especially.”
According to Finch, the chemistry of the team in and out of season is great. He said that the team works hard to make water polo a welcoming experience for new people by promoting inclusion, diversity and acceptance. However, the coach also does a great job of keeping practices fun and gives him the feeling of wanting to go back, said Finch.
Having played in his undergraduate, Waldherr thanks the team for allowing his coaching experience to be a positive one. According to Waldherr, they are a very positive group, and he appreciates them coming to practice after a day of classes to spend time with the team and continue to work hard. He appreciates them and encourages anyone to join regardless of experience.
“I’m really proud of what we have done with our water polo program. I’m really proud of the environment and the opportunity that we’re able to give to folks here at the university. And I think the really cool thing about our team is that we have people who have played at a very high level for a very long time. But we also have folks that have never played before when they arrived on campus and they were swimmers in high school, and we’ve also had folks who are just looking for a new sports play. They’d never swam, they never played water polo growing up. And we have folks that basically got in the water, barely knowing how to swim, that became proficient water polo players over the course of two, three years. It takes time, but if you’re willing to put in the work, and learn the game, we’d love to have anybody’s welcome at all times.”