Ryan Higgins: Why He Would Rather Not Fight a Slovakian Water Polo Player

This week Ryan Higgins PO ’14, an environmental economics major in the environmental analysis program, joined TSL after an early-morning water polo practice to talk about his rowdy sport, his experience studying in South Africa, and some of his involvements on campus.

TSL: How did you start playing water polo?

Ryan Higgins: Growing up, I was always in the swimming pool. I started swimming at four or five and started playing water polo in the sixth grade. It’s a popular sport where I’m from. 

TSL: Did your family influence your involvement in sports in any way?

RH: They got me in the pool to start, but I definitely chose water polo as a sport all on my own. My parents didn’t push me to do it or anything, neither one of them played aquatic sports. My dad is a big skier though. 

TSL: Would you say water polo is more difficult than a lot of other sports?

RH: I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes here, but polo is known to be a tough sport. I’ve definitely found myself just as tired playing other sports, but that said, I think water polo requires a more unique skill set. You have to be very comfortable in the water. If you were to just pick up the sport one day and start playing without any experience, I think water polo would be more difficult than others.

TSL: What do you like about it?

RH: I like that it’s challenging. I’ve actually heard it compared to chess. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but there’s definitely a lot of strategy to water polo. It’s stimulating both physically and mentally. I also like that it’s a close-knit community. It’s not the most popular sport, so it’s sort of cool that you’ll play people from different areas but you’ll get to know them relatively well. It makes things more interesting when you know whom you’re facing. 

TSL: Do you do anything funny or strange for team bonding?

RH: We have a lot of traditions as a team. Some are more public than others. Some I can tell you about, some I can’t. We always go to Frank as a team after morning practice. We’re pretty rowdy there, but it’s a good bonding thing. We always go to a senior’s house for a week before season starts. This year we went paintballing during that time. We also have some traditions that have been dying out because of the administration. We don’t haze or anything—when I was a freshman, I very much enjoyed every tradition I was a part of. No one on our team felt any of our traditions were uncomfortable, but we’ve got to be more careful these days.

TSL: Anything crazy ever happened during a game?

RH: Oh, many things. I’ve been in a couple games where the bench has been entirely cleared as a result of players fighting in the water. One game I watched in particular was of the Canadian national team; they cleared the entire bench. Another time, I was on a trip with my team in high school. One of my friends was on another high school team but we were on the same club team together. Anyways, both of our high school teams were on a trip in Eastern Europe. We got to play the Slovakian national team, which was cool. One of the smallest players on my team ended up in a fight with the biggest player on my friend’s team. He ended up getting a concussion and had to go to a Slovakian hospital. We got out of the country as quickly as we could.

TSL: If you had to play water polo with any object other than a typical ball, what would it be and why?

RH: Back in the day, they used to play with these tiny little leather balls. You could probably throw them so hard and skip them across the water. I’d love to try that out.

TSL: Did you study abroad?

RH: I went to Cape Town last semester. I played water polo over there, so I got to meet some local guys. It was less of a commitment; I just played a few games a week on the third team so it wasn’t too competitive, it was mostly for fun. Fifty percent of my waking hours in Cape Town, I spent in the water. I surfed or played polo or did both every day. School there was more challenging than I expected, but it was a high-quality education. People were more stressed-out there than here, but I tried not to let it get to me. I was living with other Pomona students, so I figured as long as I was on the same page as them I would be okay. Overall, Cape Town was awesome. There was never a shortage of things to do.

TSL: Did you ever play any other sports?

RH: I played a lot of land sports. I was pretty good at baseball, but then I got hit by a pitch and ruled it out. It was basically a process of elimination of sports until I found water polo. Basketball, I played until around seventh grade, but then I had a skiing accident and shattered both my heels. That sort of got me to write off anything with running. It still hurts now sometimes. That basically confined me to the pool, but I’m pretty glad that it did.

TSL: What other extracurriculars are you involved in?

RH: I’m a member of the Kappa Delta fraternity to start. During season, water polo is pretty much the only thing I have time for. But off-season, I’m part of the surf club and the ski club, which are both pretty awesome. I still ski even after my accident, I just don’t do jumps anymore.

TSL: Any final words?

RH: I’d like to give props to my coach for creating a pretty unique program here. We work pretty hard, but it definitely pays off. We get to play some pretty cool teams, both Division I and Division III, which is really unique. We have the best of both worlds.

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