In November, the facility hosted the Men’s National Collegiate Club Championship. From May 6-8, the top women’s teams will once again compete in Huntsville for the title of 2022 National Collegiate Club Champion.
“We are extremely fortunate and excited to host the Women’s Club National Championships in 2022,” Huntsville Parks & Recreation Aquatics Supervisor David Kalange said. “Hosting the Men’s Club Championship in the fall established the opportunity for us to host again this spring. Three years ago, no one outside Huntsville could have imagined us as the Water Polo Championship capital of the country.
“Bringing national events and people to Huntsville is exactly why this facility was built.”
Fast and furious
The 16-team tournament is the largest collegiate water polo championship in the nation, bringing about 350 players, coaches and officials to the Rocket City. For those new to water polo, this is a fast-paced, high-intensity game. Each match is divided into 8-minute quarters. Players are not allowed to touch the sides or bottom of the pool. Instead, they must tread water or swim the entire time. College-level players swim about a mile each game.
Water polo is considered one of the most physically grueling sports in the world. Adding to the difficulty, the six outfield players on each team can only hold the ball with one hand as they try to score a goal. They move the ball by throwing it to a teammate or pushing it in front of them. Watch closely and you’ll see players who can perfectly catch a pass one-handed and release it in a single motion. Only the seventh member of each team, the goalkeeper, uses both hands.
The gold standard
Water polo originated nearly 140 years ago, as a form of rugby played in the rivers and lakes of England and Scotland. Early players used a ball constructed of Indian rubber. It’s believed the game came to be called water polo based on the English pronunciation of the Balti word for ball, “pulu.”
In 1900, water polo became the first team sport included in the modern Olympic games. It would take another 100 years and political protests from the Australian women’s team, but women’s water polo finally became an Olympic sport during the 2000 Games in Sydney. Today, there are women’s water polo teams at more than 100 colleges in the U.S.
Know before you go
This will be the first Women’s National Collegiate Club Championship since the University of Notre Dame hosted the 2019 tournament. The last two annual tournaments were canceled due to COVID-19.
Warmups will take place at the Huntsville Aquatics Center from 4-8 p.m. Thursday, May 5. Tournament hours are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. The third-place game will take place at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, followed by the championship game at 12:45 p.m.
The public is welcome at all events. A one-day pass is $10 ($5 seniors), while the three-day tournament pass is $25 ($10 seniors). Children 12 and under are free. There are no pre-sales. Tickets are available exclusively at the door.
Locally, the Huntsville Water Polo Association (HWPA) is working to build participation in the sport. HWPA’s Mark Reilly says there’s an incredible amount of potential for growth of water polo in North Alabama with the number of kids involved in aquatic sports. The challenge is reaching those kids and their parents and showing them what a great and fun sport it is to play, he added.
“From personal experience, I know there are a lot of kids on swim teams that may not be able to swim at an elite level or burn out, swimming against the clock, who would excel at a team sport that requires more than just being fast in the water,” he said.
To that end, HWPA would like to bring the USA Water Polo Splashball program to the area. Aimed at children under 11, Splashball is played in shallow water. It’s an introduction to water polo that reinforces Learn to Swim programs.
Click here to follow HWPA on Facebook.
About the Huntsville Aquatics Center
The Huntsville Aquatics Center is located at 2213 Drake Ave. SW in Huntsville. It is a 90,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility with three pools. The instructional pool is ideal for group exercise and swim lessons. The legacy pool is used for lap swim, public swim, swim teams and dive teams. The 50-meter competition pool is where the water polo championship will take place. In addition to water polo, this pool is also utilized for swim meets and offers seating for 1,400 spectators.