A feature for the Student on the University’s water polo club
Fast, frenetic and physical, water polo is certainly no sport for the faint hearted. Requiring a gruelling mixture of endurance, technical skill and bodily strength, it is a game that produces matches of fierce intensity and absorbing competition.
It is fortunate then, that the University of Edinburgh has proved consistently excellent at producing players more than capable of rising to the challenge. Last year proved particularly fruitful, with both the women’s and men’s first teams winning their SSS League and Scottish Cup. Both teams also qualified for the BUCS finals, where the women finished third and the men came fourth, whilst both second teams also qualified for the semi-finals. Elsewhere, the girls won the Scottish National League, with the men again finishing third.
“Our main strengths last year lay in speed and our ability to convert on the fast break,” explains Robert Tate, the captain of the men’s first team.
“We were also particularly strong in defence – our goalie is one of the best keepers in the country right now, and he kept us in games where we would otherwise have struggled.”
Amy Middlemast, club president and captain of the women’s first team, also points to an effective backline when explaining last year’s successes.
“Last year our defence was very tight,” she explains. “Our long range shooting was also strong – we had lots of players on the team who could score from outside five metres at key moments.”
Coach Dave Armstrong was particularly proud of his team’s competitive spirit last term, which he feels was exemplified in the game which saw the women secure their third place finish at the BUCS finals,“That win came after an agonising loss the night before and was indicative of the fantastic fighting spirit that characterised the year’s campaign.”
He also highlights the importance of the club’s strength in depth: “Due to academic requirements, we lost a few of our strongest team members throughout the year but were able to bring in players to fill the gaps without compromising the team’s ability.”
Despite last year’s achievements, the club have identified several key areas for improvement over the coming season.
“We need to focus on structuring our attack more successfully,” Tate explains. “Our defence is strong, but we need to back this up by converting our chances at the other end of the pool.”
“I think fitness is a key area,” Middlemast says. “There were games last season where we got countered off and so an extra swim session or two a week will definitely stop that happening again.”
To aid this physical development, the club hopes to reap further rewards from the Team Performance Program which provides players with a trainer for gym sessions and access to physio if required.
“The players are fitter, stronger, and, if anything, a little bit more competitive with each other, which is great to see,” Armstrong says of the program which both first teams were put on last year. “It seems to have pushed them to play with more aggression, which was something we lacked a little last season.”
Armstrong also hopes players will look to broaden their knowledge of the game by training with local club teams and taking an interest in international tournaments. “This should allow them to gain a better grounding in the sport and the tactics involved in higher level competition,” he explains.
Both the men and women have high aims for the coming season: “I want us back at the BUCS finals in Sheffield next March, preferably bettering last year’s 4th place finish,” says Tate.
The women are also hoping to go a couple of steps further, “I think 2nd place is definitely within our grasp, and 1st wouldn’t be impossible either,” predicts Middlemast.
As the club aims for victory on all fronts this season, they also hope to demonstrate to spectators their sport’s demanding physical attributes and exciting technical skills. “I would describe it as a bit of wrestling, boxing, rugby sevens, basketball and football all rolled into one, while at the same time trying not to drown,” Armstrong suggests.
Middlemast is especially keen to demonstrate what the sport is really about, “There are no horses swimming around in the pool, like some people imagine! Water polo is a tough and fast paced game that is extremely exciting to watch and even more fun to play.”