The historic first season of men’s water polo has been a rousing success. Even though the game results have not always been the best, the team has had many valuable experiences and plenty of opportunities to grow.
The Vikings opened their season on Sept. 11 in Pennsylvania, where they picked up the program’s first victory with a 15-11 win over host Penn State Behrend. Augustana lost its first game in program history later that day, dropping a close 16-15 decision to Washington and Jefferson. The Vikings closed their trip with a loss to Austin the next morning.
After a tournament in Connecticut was cancelled, the team next saw action in a tournament in California. Augustana suffered four losses in a span of two days. But, they faced nationally-ranked opponents in Chapman and Cal Lutheran, along with a division I team in California Baptist.
The Vikings finally got a chance to compete in their home state on Oct. 9 with a trip to McKendree, where the team faced two division II opponents in the host Bearcats and Salem.
“Even though we are a very young team, we have been very competitive in our games, surprising opposing teams,” junior Joseph Addison said. “This season has put our names on the map. How we are performing this season as a first year program is setting up our team for success over the next couple of years.”
Despite the tough string of losses, the team has been able to bond and build up the program for future success.
“Being the first year, we understand that we’re going to have to put in some work to get to the level we want to be at,” freshman James Sutton said. “Our goals this year are mainly to build a strong program that we can build off of in the years to come.”
Since the program is new, the roster is mostly comprised of first-years. However, there are five upperclassmen who have taken their roles as leaders very seriously.
“Most of these guys are looking for people to learn from, seek both social as well as academic help from, and just overall looking for that ‘big brother’ type bond with,” junior Kyle Lejman said. “Everyone clicked together so quickly, which makes building a team, not to mention a first year team, a lot easier on us and our coaches.”
The team roster is made up of players with many different backgrounds and stories. While most Augustana athletes are from the Midwest, the water polo team features players from places like California, Oregon and Texas. The upperclassmen came to Augustana and joined the water polo team for a variety of reasons.
Lejman began his Viking career as a golfer, but is grateful for the opportunity to continue playing water polo.
“I’ve always valued the whole team mentality and atmosphere that water polo brought and that golf never really had,” Lejman said. “When the varsity program was created and Coach [Ryan] Pryor reached out and asked if I was interested in joining the men’s team, it was a no brainer. I plan on joining the golf team again to compete in the spring season.”
The team has faced a rigorous travel schedule, one that most Augustana teams will never experience. The Vikings have made a trip to California and throughout the East Coast. The athletes, many of whom are from areas where Augustana has traveled, are handling the difficult schedule well.
“It’s definitely a huge change of pace, but so far it’s been relatively smooth and easy for us athletes,” California native Sutton said. “That is largely due to our coaches, who organize the trips and ensure we have a smooth, simple trip.”
Their season will continue with one more trip to Pennsylvania on Oct. 16, where they will face familiar foes in Penn State Behrend, Washington and Jefferson. The national tournament will be held in Connecticut from Oct. 23-24. The Vikings will have their first home match in the
new Peter J. Lindberg Center on Nov. 13, when McKendree’s varsity and club teams will make the trip to Rock Island.