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No. 1 men's club water polo heads to nationals

Taylor House/Arizona Daily Wildcat
The Arizona men's club water polo team travels to the 2005 Men's National Club Championship tournament in Williamstown, Mass., this weekend. The Wildcats went 16-0 in the regular season and are a favorite to win as a No. 2 seed.
By Jason Kleinman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, November 18, 2005
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The Arizona men's club water polo team is undefeated this season (16-0) and the nation's No. 1 team, according to the most recent top-20 poll by the Collegiate Water Polo Association's Men's Collegiate Club.

Yet despite its rousing success, the team is unknown to most students because of its club status, thus having no affiliation with the NCAA or Arizona Athletics.

"Water polo in general is not a well-recognized sport," said Arizona head coach Doug Jones. "Being a club sport, it's going to be a little harder getting recognition, (but) these guys are very, very good."

The team travels to Williamstown, Mass., this weekend for the 2005 Men's National Club Championship tournament, where the Wildcats are the No. 2 seed and will face No. 15 seed Iowa State in their first game today.

En route to its perfect regular season, Arizona faced club teams from such universities as Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

At last season's tournament, Arizona was the runner-up to Cal Poly, but has since lost eight seniors to graduation.

However, with new leadership and team camaraderie, players said they have a stronger outlook going into the postseason.

"We've got the best chance we've had in a while," said junior goalie Ryan Martin. "If this team plays together and plays four solid quarters, there is no team in the country that can beat us."

Losing eight of its most experienced players should hurt a team, but the 20 members of this year's squad seem to have a strong bond that other teams cannot match.

"We can push each other really hard," said team captain Jeff Dunnam, one of the Wildcats' six seniors. "When someone messes up, we can get on each other, and it's nothing personal. We are just pushing each other to make us the best we can be, and when we get out of the water, we are 20 best friends."

The team was founded in 1978 as an NCAA team. Because of Title IX, which was instituted six years earlier and demanded that more scholarships be given to female athletes, the athletics department could no longer fund the team, and it has had club status ever since, Dunnam said.

Some might think that finding players to join the team has been difficult as a result, but Jones said that Arizona's winning tradition is what keeps the roster stacked.

"(The Wildcats) have been good for many years, and many people on this team have come here to play water polo even though it is not a recognized varsity sport," he said.

Varsity sports at NCAA Division I schools like Arizona are known for taking up a lot of time, to the point that they end up feeling like too much responsibility for some athletes.

Not so for these competitors.

"We come out here and enjoy ourselves and play because we want to play, instead of having it be another job," Dunnam said. "I think that's the best part about club sports in general."

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