After making the decision to study at McGill, Madison Mueller, a U3 student studying anatomy and cell biology, found herself trying out for the school’s water polo team, the Poseidons. Growing up in Burr, Saskatchewan—a province well known for its flat, dry plains—Mueller never considered playing water polo. But as a strong athlete who played basketball and swam competitively for 12 years, Mueller transitioned smoothly into the new sport during her first year.
“The way I understood water polo is through basketball,” Mueller said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “They’re very similar. They have screening, they have cuts, they have zone and man-to-man defence, and there are fast breaks and everything. It’s really set up the same way.”
However, there are key differences—the first, and most obvious, being that water polo is in water and players are able to swim with the ball without having to pass it. Each team is allowed six outfield players in the pool at a time, as well as one goalie. Possibly the most important difference is that water polo, for lack of a better word, is ridiculously aggressive.
With referees standing poolside, they can only make foul calls based on what they see from above. Since players can’t touch the bottom of the pool, they often create leverage by pushing off their opponents and wrestling for a positional advantage below the water’s surface. The ability to hide under the water allows for players to kick, scratch, and even bite each other to gain the slightest edge over their opponents.
“The reason why we have the super tight bathing suits that zip up in the back is so that players can’t grab it as well,” Mueller said. “When I first joined the team, I asked what water polo was like, and was told that it was really aggressive. The example I was given is that during the Olympics, there was a girl who reached over behind her back, grabbed a girl’s bathing suit and flung her over her shoulder and her whole bathing suit came off.”
Yet, Mueller was not deterred by the sport’s aggressive nature. She reflected on her first-ever game with the Poseidons at a tournament against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues.
“I scored a hat trick with two nicely placed lobs and one breakaway,” Mueller said. “It was a pretty memorable experience.”
After finding success with the Poseidons, combined with her experience coaching competitive swimming throughout high school, Mueller felt compelled to start up her own water polo team, the Humboldt Hammerheads, in an effort to grow the sport in her home province of Saskatchewan. While still focussing on skill development, the squad is looking to start competing against other water polo teams in Regina, Saskatoon, Weyburn, and Estevan.
Although not an officially recognized varsity sport, McGill’s water polo team is funded by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and competes in two leagues. During the Fall semester, the team is broken up into men’s and women’s squads and they compete in tournaments against varsity squads in Eastern Canada such as the University of Toronto, Queen’s University, and the University of Ottawa. In the winter semester, though, the team is co-ed and split into Poseidon One and Two. Both squads compete at different levels within the Quebec league, which includes McGill, Concordia, Université de Montreal, and UQÀM.
Persevering through ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions, struggles to find pool time, and budget cuts, the team is nonetheless looking forward to the Fall 2022 season. With the McGill pool having reopened on March 7, the team has been hosting tryouts with the goal of building up a fresh base of players.