By Story and photos by Mikael Krummel

Two Willamette High School athletic teams would like the world to know that their chosen sport has nothing to do with horses, croquet mallets, or wet balls being bumped over a net. In fact, the Willamette water polo players are on a mission to prove that their sport is hardly a game played by sissies.

Wolverine boys and girls water polo coach Matt Hauge sometimes compares his favorite sport to a combination of swimming, wrestling, basketball, soccer, and baseball. One of Hauge’s ambitions is to resurrect the 1990s powerhouse era of Eugene water polo, when Sheldon dominated state high school championships and citywide instructional camps for 10-, 12-, and 14-year-old players produced local students competing on the Junior Olympics and USA National water polo teams.

“I’m an extreeeemly competitive guy,” says Hauge. “I hate losing. I love physical action. And I’ve always been a fish in water.” Hauge’s track record at Willamette speaks to his commitment and investment in water sports: After three years of his coaching, Willamette recently netted the first-year girls team a trip to the State Championships, and last year’s boys’ team competed at State after posting a 16-2 conference record.

Wolverine poolers say that physical conditioning is one key to winning. A sustained “egg beater” technique for treading water is a powerful asset, as is core strength, quick moves, and a stinging shot on goal. But the players and their coach also concur that the mental game is what truly separates the good from the great. “Quick twitch, quick mind, living in the moment,” advises Hauge. “You’ve got to be almost omniscient in the pool.”

To prove their point, the Wolverine boys will host a much-anticipated pool showdown versus Willamette football players this summer. The event will raise money for the polo teams, while demonstrating that the sport is hardly a refuge for wussies. Don’t be surprised if the bad boys of blue water prove every bit as tough as the guys of the gridiron. . . and likely far more omniscient.