‘Everyone has to play your freshman year’: Innertube water polo no joke for some Mudders

Intramural innertube water polo teams from Harvey Mudd College take the sport more seriously than most. (Amy Best • The Student Life)

At Harvey Mudd College’s North Dorm, several athletes are preparing for an important championship tournament taking place this weekend.

The sport? Intramural innertube water polo.

Innertube water polo teams that compete in the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps intramural league are pillars of the communities of several Harvey Mudd dorms. However, the dorms vary in how seriously they take the sport.

In North Dorm, for example, participation is mandatory.

“Everyone has to play your freshman year,” North resident Stephanie Blankley HM ’20 said.

In other dorms, first-years are just strongly encouraged to join. This is what led Sara McAllister HM ’19 (East Dorm) and Eli Weissler HM ‘19 (Sontag) to first try out the sport.

Regardless of the participation requirements, the sport features a steep learning curve for first-year players.

“The first time you get on it’s really tough, and you sort of are flopping around like an ungraceful whale,” Weissler said.

Blankley said the first games are always the most comedic.

“We kind of set them up for failure because we do not tell them the rules beforehand, so the first game’s always really funny,” Blankley said.

Luckily, it’s easy to improve.

“There was one person on the team this year who’s a freshman who could not get in the tube the first game — it took him four minutes at the beginning of the game to just get into the tube — and now he’s one of the best players on the team,” Weissler said.

Of all the dorms that participate, North is the only one with multiple teams. Those are “Norf Frosh,” the first-year team; “Big Norf,” which includes non-first-years with more of a focus on fun than winning, and “Ultimate Norf,” which is the varsity equivalent.

Blankley is a member of Ultimate Norf, a team that she said has won all championships in recent memory.

The team’s focus on winning sets them apart, she said.

“We’re trying to win the championship,” Blankley said. “We will kind of get mad at people if they don’t come to games. We’ll ask to move games if most of the team can’t make it. We’re not trying to forfeit a game here where other teams are like ‘yeah, sure.’”

Unlike Big Norf, Ultimate also discourages any alcohol consumption before games.

Many athletes on Ultimate — Blankley included — are already accustomed to a competitive atmosphere as members of a Claremont-Mudd-Scripps varsity sport. The teams represented include swim, softball, volleyball and track.

McAllister plays on the team from East Dorm — “The Marvelous Breadfish.” While she said they also want to win the championship, that doesn’t come “at the exclusion of people having fun.”

“We try to play everyone who wants to play, independent of whether that’s going to cost us the game,” she said.

North Dorm and East Dorm are geographically located across from one another and are rivals outside of intramural sports as well.

“We have a rivalry against North and want to win against North,” McAllister said. “Usually on sports things we lose, but we’ve won against various teams of theirs in innertube water polo.”

While East and North traditionally have the largest teams, several other dorms compete. According to Weissler, most dorms take the sport less seriously, including his team from Sontag.

“Everyone’s sort of there just trying to have a good time,” Weissler said. “That’s like most of the dorms at Mudd that have intramural water polo teams.”

Though happy when Sontag does well, he primarily plays for fun.

“You can just go out there and be competitive, but also sort of just be doing this ridiculous fun thing,” Weissler said. “It’s also a fun communal activity where you can get together with a lot of people in your dorm or a lot of your friends.”

Regardless of their level of play, the teams consider the league good for dorm bonding. Mudd dorms tend to have a strong culture, and students often elect to live in their dorms for all four years.

But according to Weissler, while an innertube water polo team is often a part of a dorm’s culture, it doesn’t have to be.

“I think it’s sometimes a little overblown — not all the dorms even have teams,” he said. “I think it’s bigger in some dorms. It’s usually when some of the upperclassmen are really into it, it becomes a way for the classes to get to know each other and will become really popular.”

Different levels of competition are common in intramural sports, however, according to CMS intramural supervisor Gabby Clouse CM ’20.

“There’s such a wide range,” Clouse said. “You have some people who have never done whatever intramural sport it is before in their lives, and they’re just there to laugh, and then you have people who used to be varsity athletes here, so it’s pretty funny, especially when the two different types of teams play each other.”

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