Coming in third at the Sunshine State Games marked a great improvement for USF water polo player/coach Nick Popa and his team. Popa, who has been playing since high school, and player/coach Rush Taylor, who also started his career in high school, led their water polo team to that third place victory after beating Gold Coast 17-11.
The water polo tournament at the Sunshine State Games is a 10-team, two-bracket round robin, where five teams in a bracket play each other once. After going 3-1, the USF “A” team earned a spot to play Fort Lauderdale for third place. Thunder and lightning canceled the game before it started, and both teams were awarded the bronze medal.
“I am really proud how everyone played, and the way the team came together,” said Taylor.
This shows a tremendous progress based on the fact that Popa and his team of eight made an appearance at the games last year and wound up scoring only four goals in four games. This year, however, Popa and Taylor had 25 members and two teams that both played well.
“We exceeded our expectations,” said Popa. “It was a team effort. Everyone played really well.”
The water polo team has been a club sport at USF for six years. The club is primarily made up of USF students who play under the school logo attending various tournaments throughout the season. There is no national recruiting, but state recruiting remains a goal for the team, hopefully helping USF to become one of the better-known water polo schools around Florida.
The USF team remains unassociated at this time, and although there is a Collegiate Water Polo Association for clubs, Taylor does not envision joining right now because of the entrance cost of $1,500.
“(The CWPA) is not something we need to put money into,” said Taylor.
Although they do not plan on joining the CWPA right now, it remains a goal for the near future.
“We want to be in the CWPA by 2003,” said Popa.
Because of the club status, the USF team has a much more relaxed environment than the demanding schedule of a varsity team with a grueling practice regiment. The USF water polo team plays up to six tournaments a year and practices three times a week. The primary goal is for people to discover water polo and to have fun.
“We are teaching people that encounter the game how to play,” said Taylor.
Without playing for conference titles or NCAA championships, the USF water polo team is more about participating and having fun than winning and losing.
“We get out of it what we put into it,” said Popa.
There are many advantages to being a club team, but there are some downsides as well, the biggest one being the fact that the university does not provide enough funding to offset the expensive budget of running a water polo team through a season. Being a club means the players pay for everything, including tournament fees, travel and equipment.
A third-place finish at the Sunshine State Games is certainly impressive after placing at the bottom of the pack last year. The USF water polo team wants to build on that win.
“We have made a name for ourselves,” said Popa.