First-years turn the tide to beat upperclassmen in inner tube water polo championships

The intramural inner tube water polo teams compete in a championship game at the CMS swimming pool.
Cahal’s Kids (in yellow tubes) and Team Gasoline (in blue tubes) await a referee’s call on a crucial play in the intramural innertube water polo championship game on Oct. 25th (Ansley Washburn • The Student Life)

Colorful inflated tubes cut through the ice-cold water as students fought for the championship title. The Oct. 25 CMS Intramural Inner Tube Water Polo (ITWP) championship game was held in Axelrood pool. 

Both teams fought tenaciously, but, in the end, it was the underdogs who came out victorious. 

First-years crowded into the stands around the pool to cheer on Cahal’s Kids, a team of mostly first-years, taking on the senior-dominated Team Gasoline in the final.

After an intense, high-scoring match, Cahal’s Kids emerged league champions, much to the crowd’s delight. 

Captain Sophia Tuncer CM ’26 said Cahal’s Kids formed from a group of first-year students who grew close during Welcome Orientation Adventure (WOA), a program put on individually by Pomona College, Claremont McKenna College and Pitzer College to get first-years to know one another in a wilderness setting before classes start.

“I really wanted to start a team when we first got the email [from CMS Rec about registering],” Tuncer said. “I registered the team, and then a bunch of my friends joined.”

The team name comes from its star player, Cahal Connolly CM ’26.

“He is like 6-foot-7 and he played water polo in high school,” she said. “[He’s] just [an] all-around MVP, so we’re just his kids.”

However, the team’s road to victory was anything but smooth.

“[The season] started off pretty shakily, actually,” said Tuncer. “We lost our first two games. Our first game was our first time actually being in the water, and we just didn’t really know what we were supposed to do. And I was supposed to read this rulebook, but I didn’t really understand it, so [I just] skimmed it and showed up.”

Though ITWP might seem easier than regular water polo, the sport presents its own challenges. For instance, Tuncer said that Cahal’s Kids were positioned in their tubes the wrong way when they started the first game. 

“I thought that you would get in the tube with your feet hanging out of the bottom and your torso out the top, but we got in our tubes like that and started playing, and the refs were like, ‘you cannot sit like that, it’s illegal,’” she said. “What you have to do is put your butt in the tube, and you’re basically sitting in it, not standing in it. So that was definitely hard, because you have a lot less mobility.”

Relying solely on arm strength to move through the pool by reaching around the tube is difficult if not used to the motion. 

“[After] the first game, I got rashes on the insides of my arms because I was paddling so much and my arm was rubbing against the tube,” Tuncer said, “But I guess I developed a callus or something after. You can kick, too, if you’re really intense about it.”

Despite the challenges, the team quickly accustomed themselves to the sport, performing well in the final despite the tense atmosphere. Referee Caroline Herdman SC ’23 said she worked extra hard to maintain control of the game since both teams were in a competitive mood.

“The championship game of the winning bracket was probably the most intense game I’ve officiated this season,” she said. “Players were more critical of calls and much more competitive. We had to call a lot of penalties, and it was just a little more rough in general — but that’s to be expected in the championships.”

Referee Lilah King-Hails SC ’23 said while the intensity can be good, it should all be in good fun. 

“It is just a part of the job that players will be upset at us for calls, behaviors and outcomes, and we always just remind the players that we are just students at work, and we are all here to have fun,” she said.

She praised one school in particular for the mix of fun and intensity it contributes to the league.

“We get a lot of teams from Harvey Mudd [College] that always bring a lot of fans and funny cheers and energy,” King-Hails said. 

The team that Cahal’s Kids played in the league semifinals was no exception. 

“We played ‘Big North,’ which is the North Dorm at Harvey Mudd,” Tuncer said. “It’s all upperclassmen, and they took it really seriously. And there were a bunch of upperclassmen who I think won in previous years. We crushed them, and they were pretty upset.”

The victory was made all the much sweeter given that Big North was the first team Cahal’s Kids played and to whom they had initially lost.

“We really had to recalibrate and figure out what worked best,” Tuncer said. “It was a real underdog win.”

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