Water polo will become a varsity sport at Monmouth College this fall, making the college one of just a handful of schools nationwide to offer the sport to both men and women.
After years of competing in the sport at the club level, Monmouth will join the varsity ranks as a member of the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA). The governing body is also its own conference, providing a unique opportunity for the Fighting Scots.
“There aren’t many Division III teams in the entire nation,” explained Alex de la Pena, the Scots swim coach and head of aquatics sports at Monmouth. “Before, if any high school polo player wanted to continue the sport in college, for the most part, they had to go to the East or West Coast. With our addition of the sport, they can play college ball much closer to home.”
While new to the sport at the varsity level, Monmouth is well-equipped to hit the ground running. Plans are already being made for competition this fall.
“We’ll travel to tournaments every few weeks and face competition from all divisions,” reported de la Pena of the schedule, which will likely include matches against the U.S. Naval Academy and Princeton, among others. “Basically, we’re a Division III program playing Division I and II teams, but we’re extremely excited for the challenge.”
Monmouth will have a good foundation on which to face that challenge. The college’s men’s club team won the Division III club team national title last fall and the women’s club team has been building momentum each year. Both squads are anxious to raise their level of play even more.
“The elevation to a varsity sport for both the men’s and women’s water polo teams will put us in a great position to have a very strong aquatics program,” explained de la Pena. “Polo and swimming go hand-in-hand. We’re looking forward to the start of a tremendous program at Monmouth.”
The swimming and diving season will be sandwiched between the men’s water polo season in the fall and the women’s season in the spring, giving Monmouth’s aquatics student-athletes the opportunity to develop their skills nearly year-round.
Not only will Monmouth become one of the few schools in the nation to offer both men’s and women’s water polo as varsity competition, it will also be one of only two Midwest Conference schools to offer 22 varsity sports. It’s a decision that did not come overnight.
“It has been in the works for quite some time,” said Roger Haynes, MC's director of athletics. “There were quite a few details to work out and we wanted to make sure we offered the best possible opportunity for our student-athletes.”
The opportunity will also allow Monmouth to appeal to a wider base of high school students. Of the approximately 1,300 students at Monmouth, nearly one-third are involved in athletics and more than 80 were named Academic All-Midwest Conference last season. Monmouth’s newest group of student-athletes is expected to add to the academic excellence of the varsity sports teams.
“Our water polo players have been very good students,” said MC president Mauri Ditzler. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know the student-athletes who have played for our club teams. They have enriched the academic environment on our campus and have gone on to launch impressive careers after graduating. The discipline and leadership opportunities of competing are consistent with our focus on active learning. I look forward to seeing both the men and women’s program grow in the coming years. I am confident that the students we recruit will be excellent scholar-athletes.”
The men’s competition will begin in September and the women are scheduled to begin play in March 2014.