The Marist women’s water polo team looks to bring more attention to the sport through a MAAC Championship win and competing in and out of the country.
As the Marist women’s water polo team travels around the country and world competing, they’re often stopped at airports and asked what sport they play. The majority of people believe they’re a volleyball or basketball team, resulting in confused and surprised faces when told otherwise. From these interactions, the women hope it results in more people watching and paying attention to the sport. It’s one of the best teams at the college. However, it lacks attention because the sport is not as popular and well-known in the United States.
Senior defender Aminadi Anorve, an L.A. native, says people still ask her what she plays back at home, even with California being “the hotbed for water polo.” Junior utility player Myriam Lizotte, who is from Gatineau, Quebec, added that it’s not a popular sport in Canada either. For the Olympics, she explained, if Canada does not qualify, the sport will not be televised.
A big component of the lack of exposure of the sport is because people haven’t seen water polo.
Primary causes of the lack of access to watch water polo are the different infrastructures of pools and access to them on each of the coasts and socioeconomic status in the U.S., with the higher end having more access to aquatics. Lizotte described how people in Europe will stop water polo players for autographs and photos. It’s a mainstream sport overseas, which is significantly different than in the United States.
All of the women’s games can be streamed through ESPN+, but to watch more water polo–in California especially–PAC-12 and Mountain Pacific Sports streaming services are needed. “If water polo was out there for a lot of people to see, honestly, I think they would like it,” head coach Chris Vidale explained. “I don’t know if I’m being cynical, but our societies, definitely, you know, it’s money-driven. If you’re bringing in money, people will show you.”
There is no coverage of water polo because it’s not a popular sport. However, it’s also not a mainstream sport because no coverage is given. What seems to be a valuable solution to bring more attention to the sport, especially at Marist, would be a MAAC Championship win, and continuing to compete on a national and international scale in the future.
“If we win the MAAC–well, when we win the MAAC–I feel like we’re going to have more attention towards our team and probably people will be aware of what’s going on,” Lizotte said.
In total, the women have four MAAC Championships but have not claimed one since 2010. Since 2014, the women have appeared six times in the finals but failed to defeat their rival, Wagner. However, this year is especially different, as Wagner has opted out of the 2021 season. The majority of the team decided to not play due to the global pandemic, leaving the Seahawks unable to compete. This leaves an opening for the Marist women, but one they wanted to achieve through facing Wagner.
“That’s our goal…beat Wagner, beat Wagner,” Lizotte said. “We still want to win the MAAC so we have to work as hard, but it’s hard to not have that little thing to push us to compete.”
“We still have a lot of work to do. Our conferences are getting better and better and the teams are getting well-coached and they’re getting better athletes. So it’s definitely not going to be an easy road. But a little easier without Wagner,” Vidale said.
With another MAAC Championship under their belt, the team would receive more attention from the student body and hopefully gain more fans at their games. Continuing to compete in conferences around the country and internationally would also help gain exposure as well. People have taken notice when the women played the national Chinese women’s water polo team in 2019. The women described it as an eye-opening experience about the sport, while also giving them exposure.
When competing against China, the language barrier made the game even more challenging. However, since water polo is universal, the team realized they don’t necessarily need to know what each other are saying to be able to defend and succeed on offense.
The same lessons and exposure were earned when the team went to France in January of 2020. Vidale has a connection with a team in Lille, France, where they ended up competing. Three athletes in Vidale’s five years have gone pro at the Lille Water Polo Club after their time at Marist: Anais Mathes ’20, Katherine Tijerina ’19, and Amanda Amorose ’17, who is also training with the Canadian national team.
This year, the team will not get the chance to travel as often as they had in the past to face greater competition, as this season has been shortened to only nine in-conference games. However, it has brought great attention to Marist and the sport in the past, and the team looks to continue this at the nearest opportunity.
Vidale played for the national Trinidad and Tobago team. He had a college career at Iona College and coached for a few years in Greenwich, Connecticut. Vidale understands how important it is to play an array of teams from different places that are above, below, and at your skill level in order to see where the team is at. It also allows top clubs in California and around the world to see Marist traveling and competing against some of the best, bringing in more interest into the Marist water polo program.
“People remember those things when you go out and do a lot of things. I think what really has helped our program be recognized just here on campus is the opportunities that Coach Chris has given us by really putting us out there and playing with some of the best teams in the world or in the country,” Anorve said.
The Marist women are currently ranked 19th in the country — the highest they have been in Vidale’s five years. The team has been ranked consistently in the top 25 of the country and their competitive schedule can take some credit for this. In the U.S., the team also travels to California to play Stanford University, Santa Clara University, and the University of California Davis, to name a few.
“I’m still waiting for my first MAAC championship win as a head coach, and I’m excited for my seniors that we can get it done but I’m excited to see how it helps the program grow because my freshmen, sophomores, juniors, they’re going to be hungry to get there,” said Vidale.
The team is looking to keep up its success as a program in the MAAC and also nationally. The women are enthusiastic to be on the road to the MAAC Tournament after several postponements with their first game on April 21 against Siena. It’s a chance to not only win a championship but it will allow people to see the sport they have come to love in the hopes others will come to love it too.
Edited by Sam DiGiovanni and Nick Stanziale
Photo Credit: Marist Athletics