ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — Augustana College Director of Athletics Mike Zapolski officially announced the institution will add men’s and women’s water polo to the institution’s varsity sports lineup beginning with the 2021-22 school year. In February of 2019, when the College announced plans to build what would eventually became known as the Peter J. Lindberg, M.D. Center for Health and Human Performance, it was stated that women’s water polo would be added and men’s water polo would likely follow.
However, until Tuesday, April 7, the announcement was not official and the two genders of water polo will give the Vikings 14 women’s sports and 14 men’s sports. Just last week Augustana announced that women’s wrestling would become a varsity sport, also in the 2021-22 school year.
While women’s wrestling named a head coach with Tony Willaert assuming double duty as head of both the men and women’s programs, Zapolski will begin a search for a head water polo coach in the very near future.
“Internal conversations about the possibility of adding men’s and women’s water polo as varsity sports began in earnest more than two years ago when the administration imagined the possibility of building a new, multi-use facility that would include both an academic and athletic component,” said Zapolski. “The plan for a larger pool not only allows for the expansion of our men’s and women’s swimming rosters, but the addition of two new sports that will help Augustana in its overall enrollment efforts.”
This will be the seventh varsity sport added since Zapolski became the director of athletics in June of 2008. Women’s lacrosse and men’s lacrosse were announced in 2010 and added in 2012 while men’s volleyball and women’s bowling started competition in 2018 after the decision was made in 2016 to add them. In February of 2019, Augustana unveiled the plans to add women’s water polo and then men’s water polo, both of which will begin play in 2021-22.
“Our plan is to replicate our current staffing structure for swimming and tennis and hire one head coach who will lead both programs,” remarked Zapolski. “Most people are not aware that approximately 80 high schools in Illinois sponsor boys’ and girls’ water polo programs, so our recruiting efforts will focus in Augustana’s traditional area of strength plus other locations such as California and Florida.”
Men’s water polo is a fall sport with competition between September and December and in December of 2019 the College Water Polo Association (CWPA), the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) and USA Water Polo hosted the inaugural USA Water Polo Division III National Championship at Whittier College in Whittier, Calif.. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III institutions that sponsor men’s water polo include Austin College, California Lutheran University, California Institute of Tecnology, Chapman University, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges, Connecticut College, Johns Hopkins University, the University of LaVerne, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Monmouth College, Occidental College, Penn State Behrend, Pomona Pitzer Colleges, the University of Redlands, Washington & Jefferson College and Whittier College.
Women’s water polo is a spring sport and its competitive season is January through May. The regular season champion from the SCIAC was slated to host the first-ever women’s USA Division III National Championship later this month, but the event was cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
Other NCAA Division III schools that sponsor women’s water polo include Austin College, Cal Lutheran, Cal Tech, Carthage College, Chapman, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Connecticut College, Grove City College, LaVerne, Macalester College, Monmouth, Occidental, Penn State Behrend, Pomona Pitzer, Redlands, Utica College, Washington & Jefferson, Whittier and Wittenberg University.
The sport of water polo continues to grow in the number of teams on the high school level per the 2018-19 High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHA). A total of 862 high schools in eight states sponsored boys’ water polo this year for a total of 22,475 participants, while 881 high schools in seven states field girls’ water polo with 21,735 athletes. Combined the sport of water polo has 44,210 players – an increase of 675 from the 2017-18 survey.
There are 19 Division III women’s water polo programs spread across California, and in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and New York. There are 14 men’s water polo programs at the Division III level and Augustana will be just the second one not located on either the East or West coast. Currently, Monmouth owns that distinction for the men.
The pool in the Peter J. Lindberg, M.D. Center for Health and Human Performance will house the aquatic center that will be the home for the men and women’s water polo teams. Play will begin for both Augustana teams during the 2021-22 school year.
Information courtesy Augustana College Athletics Communications