Friday, December 9

Fall sports postponement brings unique challenges to men’s, women’s water polo

Coach Adam Wright of men's and women's water polo is the only head coach of two UCLA programs, achieving a combined record of 333-64. (Amy Dixon/Daily Bruin senior staff)

This post was updated Oct. 4 at 11:14 p.m.

The Pac-12 made a splash when it announced the return of UCLA football and men’s and women’s basketball in November, but the future of smaller sports is still in question.

For men’s and women’s water polo – who compete in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation rather than the Pac-12 – the struggle to get back into the pool continues.

With the UCLA campus closed to the general public but open to athletes, some student-athletes, such as men’s senior attacker Chasen Travisano, have made their way back to campus for the fall quarter, which began Thursday. The return, however, comes with certain procedures and conditions, such as regular COVID-19 testing.

“I think everyone (on the men’s water polo team) is back on campus,” Travisano said. “We just went through the testing protocol this week, so for right now we’re just in our apartment with the guys we live with and that’s it.”

But the return to campus has not included everyone, namely men’s and women’s coach Adam Wright, the only UCLA employee coaching two teams.

Being away from campus and their teammates for over six months has posed challenges for all student-athletes, but when playing a water sport, it’s especially difficult since not every member of the team has the ability to stay in shape at home.

“We’ve had some kids who have access to a pool and have been training, but we also have others who have not,” Wright said. “Minimum, really I believe is six weeks (to be in playing shape), that’s why I’m so glad and we’re so fortunate that we’re gonna have a good portion of the fall to at least start creating a cardio base, and it gives us the ability to really work slowly and methodically through this process.”

Specifically, women’s sophomore utility Abbi Hill – second in the MPSF in points in her abridged freshman year – said the last six months have been difficult as, for the first time in her life, she hasn’t had access to a pool regularly. As a result, she says the climb back to playing shape will be a long and difficult road.

“Well, I have never not played water polo for this long before, so it’s been new for me,” Hill said. “It’s gonna take a really long time (to get into playing shape). I’ve run into some pain here and there, I get really sore really fast because my body is kind of in shock when I go from zero to 100. I think that’s gonna be the case for the whole team. It’ll take a lot of time and preparation to get back to how we need to be.”

With improper training and strict COVID-19 protocols and requirements, the men’s water polo team looks as if they won’t make a return during their usual fall season slot. Instead, it appears that their season will be pushed back to the women’s usual slot, bringing into question how the men’s and women’s seasons will be integrated.

“They’re looking to do a two month (men’s) season starting mid-January, ending mid-to-late March,” Travisano said. “It just would be a shortened season. I don’t think that’s 100% yet, they still need to go through a few more rounds of voting, but that’s what they’re trying to orchestrate right now.”

Football and basketball’s return isn’t without massive limitations and precautions. Most notable, aside from the testing protocols, is football’s conference-only schedule.

Wright says that while his teams don’t compete in the Pac-12, it’s likely the men’s team will follow suit and also play a conference-only schedule, which includes schools across the country such as Penn State Behrend and Austin College in Texas. The scheduling for the women is still unknown.

“The MPSF follows under the Pac-12 so there is a chance on the men’s side of a conference-only schedule,” Wright said. “The way things have gone, they’re trying to figure out all fall sports first, before they get into the winter and spring sports. We’re gonna have to be creative in how we figure those things out, but the main thing on every coach’s mind is we’ll do whatever it takes to have all our kids have the ability to play this year.”

With the men’s season pushed toward the women’s traditional slot as Travisano suggested, it leaves a major unanswered question: When will the women play? Will they compete during the same time frame as the men, or will their season be pushed back as a result?

The idea of the teams competing at the same time is not impossible, but it does have a catastrophic consequence for UCLA. With Wright coaching both the men’s and women’s teams, there’s a question as to how he could possibly do both at the same time. While Wright didn’t have the exact answer to the question, he is confident the staff at UCLA is equipped to handle this academic season’s abnormal scheduling.

“If they do play in the same season, we have to look at the bright side: at least they’re both having the opportunity to play,” Wright said. “We’ll be very open with our student-athletes in how we’re gonna approach it. I obviously can’t be in two places at once, but we can assure each and every one of our athletes that our preparation towards being successful will not change.”

Regardless of how the two teams proceed, one thing seems certain: Wright is ready to get back out there with his teams, whether in small groups or in full, to carefully – and safely – begin a season.

“We’ll adjust to whatever the protocols are,” Wright said. “Whether that’s pods, great. If we’re able to all be together, great. But the reality is we will be more than mindful of how we slowly bring back our athletes.”

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Sports senior staff

Boal is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women's water polo beat. He was an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. Boal was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats.

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