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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Water polo team heads to national championship

By Rinna Waddhany

The men’s water polo “A” team is heading to the National Championship Tournament, which is scheduled for Friday through Sunday. The team finished its regular season as the Rocky Mountain Division champions last month and is now preparing to compete in a pool of 16 top teams from all over the country.

Beating Colorado 7-4 in the Division Championship marks the second division title in three years for Utah’s “A” team. Experience was a big factor in the championship, as several players from the previous division title are still playing this year.

“We have beaten several of the best teams in the nation this year,” said Matt Clark, senior diver and captain of the team. “That really adds to our confidence. At the same time, we recognize that there will be some tough competition.”

The 2009 Men’s National Collegiate Club Championship will be held at the University of Florida. Although Utah is ranked No.2 nationally, the seeding works differently than the ranking. Because not every team plays each other in the regular season, the tournament assigns seeding based on how the teams performed in the last national championship. Since Utah did not reach nationals last year, the team earned a No. 12 seed and will face No. 5-seed Illinois-Chicago of the Great Lakes Division in the first round.

“It’s not a great system,” said head coach Tom Taylor. “The Coaches Poll is more accurate. But we have the talent to go and do very well, and it’s a new experience no matter how we do.”

If Utah advances past Illinois-Chicago in the first round at nationals, the team will face either Florida International or Columbia. Last year’s champion, Michigan State from the Big Ten Division, has the No. 1 seed, and UCLA, No. 1 nationally, is seeded as No. 2.

Clark said he doesn’t feel a lot of added pressure just because Utah has scored another division title.

“I believe we have the best goalie in the nation among all college club water polo teams in Sam Thomas and an awesome supporting team,” he said.

Looking ahead, Taylor said he is excited about the prospect of the team in the future. He said he hopes their accomplishments this year can garner attention of upcoming players.
“We have a good program here,” Taylor said. “That might help attract players from California and also get local talents that weren’t as interested before.”

The players are utilizing the time they have left to put in quality practice before they head off to Florida on Thursday, though scheduling practices has been a struggle.

“Playing on a club sport that is as competitive as we have been has proven to be demanding,” Clark said. “All the guys on our roster have several other commitments and obligations that can make it tough to get everyone out to practice and focused on our team goals.”

Overall, the team has been practicing several times each week, focusing primarily on swimming and conditioning.

In 2007, after winning the Rocky Mountain Division, Utah qualified for nationals and finished ninth. Clark said winning the National Championship this year isn’t out of the question.

“On the one hand, this is only collegiate club water polo, and we realize that there is a whole different level of water polo out there with the NCAA varsity,” Clark said. “But for the level we are able to play at, this is our big dance.”

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