LOUDONVILLE – “Give me your tired …”
If Lady Liberty needed to ice her torch shoulder, the Siena women’s water polo team was on hand to help last Saturday.
Head coach Alex Williams scripts the Saints’ road trip itineraries down to the minute, especially when Siena plays matches at two different sites on the same day, as they did on March 26, at Iona in New Rochelle at 1 p.m. and at Wagner on Staten Island at 8 p.m.
Water polo is taxing enough as a sport, but there’s extra calculus on days like that.
Sometimes you get lucky, as Siena did when traffic from Westchester County to the southernmost borough of New York wasn’t all that bad and they had enough extra time to hop on the Staten Island Ferry.
“I’ve never seen the Statue of Liberty from the view of the ferry, so that was cool,” senior center Georgia Vargas said before practice on Wednesday.
The life of a college water polo team forces them to look at things a little differently from other sports, since the demands of their weekend doubleheaders can bring the added twist of long time gaps between games. It’s a tough enough sport to begin with, but water polo players have to put some imagination into how they recharge their batteries for the second game.
For Siena, that requirement is compounded by the fact that the Saints have a short roster, which means most of their players don’t come out of the game and only get breathers during stoppages for goals, penalties (which are called exclusions) and the end of quarters.
“I like to sleep on the bus,” senior attacker Bianca Prinsloo said. “We spend a lot of time icing. My shoulders always hurt.”
“If it’s not a home game, it’s very important for everyone to have a plan specialized to what gets them ready for the next game,” Vargas said. “Do I need to stretch more? Or do I need to take a nap or eat my own snack that I brought? Or do I need to listen to my music that gets me back into the head space to play this next game?”
“There has to be enough time between games for adequate recovery,” Williams said. “There has to be carefully planned meals in between, not too close to the start time for the next game. We have to feed them, make sure they get enough calories and nutrition replenishment, enough water.
“We know exactly where we’re eating, where we’re picking up snacks from. We know who’s getting cases of water to have on the bus.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2022 represents the first full season of games the Saints have played since 2019.
They totaled 13 games in 2020 and just eight last year, so a typical 29-game schedule this year, which continues today with a home doubleheader against VMI at 10 a.m. and Wagner at 1:30 p.m., “is kind of going from zero to a hundred,” Williams said.
Even if the results haven’t been ideal – Siena is 0-6 in the MAAC and 3-16 overall – the Saints are more than happy to get back to a normal workload, especially Prinsloo and Vargas, who will be honored in a Senior Day ceremony before the VMI game.
The short roster has forced the team to get creative in a variety of ways, certainly in games, but also in practice.
If Williams senses the team is getting worn out, he’ll modify weekday time in the pool to incorporate fun drills that keep the players mentally sharp without being physically rigorous.
And he had the Staten Island Ferry ride in the back of his mind as an opportunity for team-bonding and to decompress before the game at Wagner, if they had the time for it.
“[Last] weekend, every single player played in every game,” he said. “And you do have to be mindful, when you’re coaching one game, that you have another, so you have to be a little bit strategic and monitor everyone’s minutes. They’re super-competitive, so they never want to come out of a game, but it’s the coaches’ job to see the bigger picture.”
“There’s things that we can’t do that other teams can,” Prinsloo said. “So a team like Wagner or La Salle are very physical, because they can get away with it. You have three exclusions, and then you’re out of the game. They have enough players that they can be more physical, and it doesn’t matter if somebody gets kicked out of the game. They’ve got 10 other people waiting to play.”
“Each of the girls are encouraged to make a plan for what they’re going to tell themselves when they face challenges in the middle of a game,” Vargas said. “Like, how you get yourself out of a difficult situation, how you get yourself out of self-doubt, mental fatigue, and on top of that, physical fatigue.”
If anyone doubts how tough and demanding water polo is, and why teams like Siena have to be so proactive and diligent in how they recover from a game, Vargas can roll up her t-shirt sleeve and show off a black-and-blue bruise the size of a hockey puck on her left biceps.
“I would tell them to get in the water and try to tread water for more than two minutes,” she said with a chuckle. “And simultaneously swimming with the ball, with people always on top of you. That’s one of my favorite things that I love about water polo, is it’s so competitive. And I love being able – when nobody knows about water polo – to tell them that it is, hands-down, one of the most physical sports in the world.”
“Mm-hmm,” Prinsloo concurred. “We don’t give up. I think it’s shown this season. It’s never an easy win for the other team. We’re always fighting.
“No one will ever take our soul, as we like to say.”