If one were to associate the Edinburgh-St Andrews Varsity match to a sport, the answer would (understandably) be rugby. After all, it is taking place at Murrayfield, the teams comprise of fifteen players each and the event itself is even titled “The Royal Bank of Scotland Scottish Rugby Varsity Match”. So what else could the Varsity even be?
As it turns out, one of the smallest clubs under the Saints Sport banner will also find itself in competition against a team from Edinburgh this weekend. Step forward the St Andrews University Water Polo Club, comprising of around 30 members, males and females included.
The club’s Publicity Officer, Katy Barker, explains that when she joined in September 2014, her and another fellow fresher were the only two new recruits for the Women’s section, who, the year before, had gone through an entire season with just enough players for a full team without substitutes – seven players. This year, another seven have joined already, doubling in size the Women’s section. The Men’s section, while traditionally faring better in numbers, is now around equal the size. According to Katy, the hope from the point of view of the club’s coach is to eventually have enough members for a “social” team.
Despite the relatively small size Water Polo and the difficulties this can bring playing-wise, in social terms, this brings about a close-knit community seldom found in bigger sports clubs at this University. The training schedule is one of the most intense offered by a University of St Andrews sports club, reaching 10 sessions per week, and on top of matches played and socials, means that players invariably end up spending a lot of time with each other. It is probably no surprise that, in Katy’s words, “everybody’s academic families are intertwined into water polo”, such is the intense nature of the club.
In the pool, the club’s coach happens to be an ex-Great Britain international and Scottish Player of the Year, as well as one of the top coaches in the country. Owing to the distinct lack of a swimming pool at the Sports Centre, the teams train at St Leonard’s School, meaning that training takes place either very early in the morning or late at night. The result is that a player may have to wake up at around 5:30 in the morning for the first session of the day before finishing the night session at 21:45. Repeat that schedule four days a week, added to two or three strength and conditioning sessions per week, and one might begin to wonder whether such a workload would take its physical toll after a while. In fact, judging by the club’s results, the opposite seems to be the case.
At both university and club level, the Women’s team are in the second and top tiers respectively: the former being the BUCS 1A and the latter the Scottish 1A. A difference of one goal was what separated the Women’s team from winning the Scottish 1A division. It is their BUCS league, however, that looks to be especially challenging, in the form of away trips to Leeds, Durham and Manchester which will surely provide a stumbling block to Sinners attendance.
Indeed, both the Men’s and Women’s teams will be competing against their Edinburgh counterparts in this year’s Varsity programme. This comes after what Katy calls a “tough, but really good” pre-season, which consisted of a gruelling four hours of pool sessions a day in addition to the general Saint Sport programme of yoga, pilates, strength and conditioning and the beach bootcamp. The chance to integrate new freshers into the team and into new tactical set plays has also proved an invaluable chance to prepare for the season ahead.
When ask what her aim is for the short-term, Katy’s answer is simple: for the Women to win their BUCS league, in which they reached the semi-finals before losing to eventual winners Durham. This was after a season in which only two games were lost, the other being a narrow, and apparently controversial, defeat to Glasgow. Their cause will no doubt be helped by the recruitment of a Scottish Ladies’ international, a former trialist for Team GB and a triathlete – the latter of whom, despite having relatively little experience, will prove an asset due to her considerable swimming ability.
Which leads on to the next, and last point. Katy notes that many members of the club had, prior to joining at St Andrews, never played water polo before, and as such the club is constantly on the lookout for more members. Katy’s long-term aim is, by her graduation, to see two Men’s and Women’s sides each.
Given the friendly nature of the club, the quality of coaching on side and the success this has evidently brought, the future looks bright for the Water Polo club. They say that success breeds success, and should Water Polo continue its form from last year, there is no reason it cannot be yet another St Andrews sports club to tick the box of “BUCS champions”.