The Ohio State water polo team will be looking for its third straight Great Lakes Division Championship on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.
The team, which competes within the Collegiate Water Polo Association, finished the regular season undefeated in 11 matches. Along with two straight Great Lake championships, it finished fifth at the National Collegiate Club Championships in 2014.
Coach James Dauphinee, president and senior goalie Michael Smith and vice president and junior center Drace Penley are working to prepare the team together.
“I structure this out so everything we do is building toward those championships,” Dauphinee said. “There’s a lot of preparation that goes in before practice, but really it’s these guys’ dedication and hard work that pushes us.”
Smith, who puts together the team’s scheduling, said midseason CWPA polls that ranked the Buckeyes first in the nation puts a target on their backs.
“We have a lot more training to do if we want to compete on a national level,” Smith said. “Teams know that we’re coming to play. We’re working really hard to make sure we’re the best team in the pool conditioning-wise and (the) best team in the pool mentally and ready to play water polo.”
Penley, whose duty as vice president is to work with fundraising and the community, said extra practice both in and out of the pool has been part of their preparation.
“We’ve been lucky on Monday and Wednesdays to come in at 7:30 a.m. and get conditioning out the way early so that we can get into more water polo,” Penley said. “We’ve also put together an out-of-practice lifting cycle, so we all signed up for a time sheet.”
Dauphinee said he thinks the team’s hard work can help it ascend to new heights.
“Placing fifth last year, we lost to the eventual national champions, and this year we’re expecting to place first, if not top three,” Dauphinee said. “I think that’s reflective of the work these guys have put in, not just last year, but the previous years to really build a name for the program nationwide.”
There has been a shift in the competitiveness of the program from when Dauphinee took over five years ago. Senior center Ben McClurg has witnessed the transition.
“We’ve pretty much done a full 180. When I started, the team was probably like 20 guys total and only 10 showed up for practice,” McClurg said. “We had a lot of good incoming classes, and now we’ve got almost 40 guys who will come in four times a week and multiple weekends every single semester.”
Smith cites Dauphinee as a large reason for the turnaround.
“My freshman year we got fourth in our conference, and now we’re going for the three-peat this year,” Smith said. “It’s just been an unbelievable change, and a lot of that has to do with our coaching. James has been an unbelievable part of that.”
Dauphinee has been named the Great Lakes Division Coach of the Year the past three seasons, but the achievements of the team are what he hangs his hat on.
“The thing that I personally get the most from is not the individual accolade, but when I first started coaching the team, they asked me to come on board and we had seven guys in the water,” he said. “This is the return on the investment I put in here, getting an opportunity to help build a program.”
Dauphinee is not the only member of the team who has experienced personal success. McClurg and Smith have both been recognized within the CWPA.
McClurg was named the 2014 Great Lakes Division MVP and a second team All-American. He said he is honored to obtain those awards, but he enjoys team success over individual.
“I like being honored, but I’d like to see the team do well rather than myself,” McClurg said. “But, obviously, I like being able to say that I was the best in the conference and somewhat of the best of the nation, which is kind of cool to see.”
Smith, as a goalie, attributes his success to the team defense and coaching.
“I’ve had an unbelievable defense, and I’ve been lucky enough to have that for three years now,” Smith said. “I came in playing in high school a little bit, but I wasn’t very good. I’ve had great tutelage, great coaching and it all goes down to that team defense.”
Penley, however, said he thinks Smith is too modest.
“Team defense can only work if you got someone who you know is only going to let seven goals max in a game behind you,” Penley said. “Pretty much every game at nationals, except for maybe one, he’s been named our MVP of the game.”
Despite a strong commitment to the program, the team emphasizes that school comes first.
Penley, a chemical engineering major, said a good balance is important.
“Since we are a club sport, we’re always making sure that everyone knows that school comes first, family comes first,” Penley said. “If you need a day off mentally, that comes first because if you aren’t prepared mentally in the pool, you’re not going to play physically well.”
Smith echoed Penley’s notion.
“We’re not scholarship athletes, we’re all here to get an education,” Smith said. “We’re lucky enough to have guys on the team who are able to balance that and (Penley) is a great example.”
Freshman Andy Damschroder said the cohesion of the club has contributed to his positive experience so far.
“We hang out together, we train together, we win together,” Damschroder said. “It’s probably one of the best clubs on campus, one of the most competitive, one of the most cohesive. Everybody is academically smart, we’re all physically talented. It’s a great group to be a part of.”
The Buckeyes will host the Great Lake Championships at the McCorkle Pavilion Halloween weekend beginning at 9 a.m. on Oct. 31.