By Andy Bays/Contributor
This has been a strange year: Cuba and the USA have become friends, The Donald has risen in the polls and now City College has its very own women’s water polo team.
“This is the first season, so it’s a historic season,” said Coach Phong Pham, who played water polo at UC Davis before becoming a swimming instructor at City College seven years ago. “The majority of the players have never played before, so it’s a completely new learning experience for them.”
Practice consists of rigorous swimming, treading and ball handling. Many of the faces of the players were strained with exhaustion after a recent demanding work out, but their spirits were high.
There was a men’s water polo team at City College in the 1970’s, but it wasn’t until recently that interest was generated in favor of creating a women’s team, according to Pham.
“Athletic Director Jamie Hayes and Department Chair Dan Hayes were very supporting,” said Pham, amid the hustle and bustle of his poolside office, whose battle-plan strewn desk and commanding view of the watery arena gives the air of Winston Churchill’s War Room.
After a recent practice the team huddled up as Coach Pham and a swimming instructor talked to them. Then the players dispersed in unison to their locker room, their team spirit exuding from the laughter and smiles they display over their sore muscles.
“It’s a physical endurance sport,” said Emily Schattenburg, who plays goalie and got her start on water polo in high school. “You need to be able to have stamina to keep you going.”
Physical roughness is common beneath the surface of the water, where referees can’t see, Natalie Taylor said, who also got her start in high school.
“In the Olympics it’s different, because they have underwater cameras, but not in college,” Taylor said.
Players like Schattenburg and Taylor are here for the love of the sport, not merely to win. “Obviously I want us to do really well,” Taylor said, “but, no matter what, I’m excited to be out here.”
In a tournament at De Anza College, the 14-member team won its inaugural game against the Laney College Eagles on Sept. 19 in a hardfought 11-9 victory, only to lose later that day to De Anza College 13-3.
Coach Pham, who walked onto a water polo team during his freshmen year in college, backed up this passion.
“I was lucky that the coach gave me an opportunity,” he said. “Now, 30 years later, I get to coach junior college polo. I never imagined that’s where I would end up.”
The Rams’ next game will be Wednesday, Sept. 30, against Merced College. Their first home game will be Friday, Oct. 9 against Ohlone College.