Water polo adapts to an age of social distancing

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Kat Hsiang

Oliver Crawford-Shelmadine, a senior on the team, practices shooting in his own lane.

Water polo is a team sport.

Not only that, but it is an intrinsically physical sport. Players face off, compete for zones, attack, and defend small sections of the pool. All of this requires coordination with teammates, refined technique, and peak physical fitness. However, these principles come into direct conflict with social distancing guidelines.

As a result, players and coaches of the Carlmont water polo program have had to adapt. 

Practices have been limited mostly to conditioning as a result of strict pool regulations from the San Mateo County Department of Public Health. Social distancing norms still apply; players wear masks on deck, and stay apart from one another both inside and outside the pool. Each player practices in their own lane, mainly swimming laps for the majority of practice. Georgia Brewster, a sophomore yearbook photographer who went to document the practice, described specifically how players were staying safe.

“The players stayed in their own lanes for much of the practice and swam a lot of laps. They also used their own water polo balls to stay safe and not spread the virus,” Brewster said. 

Players’ feelings on the conditioning-focused practices are mixed. Players recognize the limitations that COVID-19 guidelines place on practices. However, they are painfully aware of the fact they are missing opportunities to work on some key aspects of the game. Konstantin Pejakovic, a sophomore on the JV team, has been very open about his feelings on this structure.

“I would say the virus has made our practices less effective as they are only conditioning. But, on the plus side, because the season is moved to winter, we have time to physically prepare,” Pejakovic said.

While the team might not be able to practice plays or technique, they get the chance to emphasize physical training. Dylan Lobo, a sophomore on the team, detailed the positives of his experience with socially-distanced practices.

“I felt like COVID-19 has made me better since I had been given more time to condition and improve on my fundamentals,” Lobo said. 

Near the end of practice, players get a chance to practice shooting. However, there is no goalie in the net to contest the shot. This can hurt players, as it doesn’t give them the same experience they would get in drills with other players trying to block their shot.

“Coronavirus has affected my play since we can’t have goalies. Having no goalie means I can’t predict how to score easily or break down the defense,” Lobo said.

Another issue that has arisen is team chemistry. Teammates have been unable to truly connect. This has limited players’ ability to develop trust and coordination, dynamics critical to the success of any team.

The good news is that the team has found new ways to connect. Since teammates are so distanced from each other during practice, players talk with their teammates on FaceTime, video games, and other social media.

“We need to find other ways to contact each other. We reach out to each other via text and email. The relationships become stronger as we stay together as one bubble,” Lobo said.

Finally, one of the concerns of some of the players has been the lack of turnout from freshmen. Only one freshman joined during the pandemic, which highlights the issue of new freshmen having less of a chance to join.

“We also wanted more people to join JV because we are quite short on players […] I am looking forward to truly playing the sport, but concerned about our player number,” Pejakovic said. “We can get in shape during the fall, but it will be very difficult playing if we can only have one full cycle of players.”

Overall, the team hopes to overcome the limitations of the pandamic and come out as a stronger, more unified unit.

“I am confident and ready for this season. I have worked on my endurance and strength as well as my fundamentals to help my team win.” Lobo said.

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