From the pool to the pub

Imagine a university sport that doesn’t turn anyone away, is more concerned about having fun than winning and parties hard after practice. The water polo club at USF offers just that and is proud of it.

“Yeah, we are serious, but it is as much of a social club as anything,” coach and player Rush Taylor said. “We go out and have a good time. We go out and party some and we have fun. It is 90 percent fun and 10 percent serious.”

In its seventh year as a club sport, the water polo team and its coaches, Nick Popa and Taylor, do not turn anyone away who is interested in the sport.

“We never turn anyone away,” Taylor said. “That is one of the great things about Nick and myself, we always want to (expand the team) and we never want to deny anyone the ability or possibility to learn the game.”

Water polo, a program at USF that is slowly growing, made tremendous strides this season. After having only about 20 people attended each practice last year, the number of participants increased to about 30 and there was enough interest to start a woman’s team, especially since women had been on the regular team for sometime. “Because of the leadership of the women, growing has not been difficult,” Popa said. “The girls did a great job, I am really, really proud of them.”

Another big step in the right direction this season was the hosting of two tournaments at the Long Center in Clearwater. More importantly, was the fact that USF water polo was able to host the Sunshine State Games.

“(The Sunshine State Games) is one of the largest tournaments in the country,” Popa said. “To take on and tackle something like (that) is tremendous. I am proud of what our team did and what they accomplished.”

There was no home team favoritism though. USF, which placed third last year, came in fifth this year. USF was able to defeat the Miami Wolverines in game one, but wound up losing to Fort Lauderdale by one point in game two. The seeding was a little different this season as opposed to last, so it was difficult to come back from an early loss.

“When you lose by a goal and are put in a losers bracket, it’s hard to finish a tournament,” Popa said.

With the season over, the team is already preparing for next year. The team plans to leave Florida for the first time, attending tournaments in Georgia, Tennessee and Ohio.

“We want to put USF water polo on the map,” Popa said.

USF water polo may not be able to guarantee consistent success, riches or fame, but they can guarantee all of their members one thing.

“Every Thursday night, we go to Hooters,” Taylor said. “Fifteen, 20 people go out and have drinks, eat some wings and hang out.”