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Despite Losing Varsity Status, Cornell Club Water Polo Still Alive and Well

“We swim well over 2 miles per match, we cannot touch the bottom of the pool, all while wrestling and fighting with another 6’5”, 250-lb. opponent,” so says Olympian Shea Buckner to Men’s Fitness magazine. He is describing men’s water polo, an activity often categorized as one of the most difficult sports in the Games. Cornell happens to be very good at it.

Undefeated for three years in the New York region, Cornell Men’s Water Polo is a very successful club with multiple national appearances. Originally at the varsity level with current aquatics director Fred DeBruyn as coach, the sport was forced to drop its status after the implementation of Title IX. Yet Cornell has had a country-wide presence since the 1990s, playing 20 games every fall season from late September to November. Faculty sponsor is Professor of Physics Yuval Grossman, who was a member of the Israeli National Team for about a decade and believes that “the healthy combination of sports and academics” can be quite helpful for one’s career.

This year’s team has players from Jamaica to California (where the sport is unsurprisingly quite popular). President Gavin Taves ’15 hails from Chicago. Like many of his fellow players, he was a swimmer and Olympic Development water polo player in secondary school who wanted to play in college but chose academics over NCAA status. The result of the Ivy League appeal? A talent pool (no pun intended) that’s been swimming under the Cornell athletic radar for years (that one was). Other schools in the league are recognized as having talented teams (their names rhyme with Drown, Harvard, and Princeton), so it is unfortunate that Cornell cannot compete in the league.

Instead, the Cornell men’s water polo team remains dominant in its own sphere. The 2014 New York CWPA Club Champions raise tens of thousands of dollars every year to travel, enter tournaments, and play throughout the fall semester. In other words, they must annually prove their worth to get the funding to compete.

All this begs the question; what actually is water polo? As Taves describes, “no other sport combines the finesse, endurance, and strength” in such an environment unnatural to humans. It is very much a combination of boxing and soccer. The pool combines the aggression and mental intensity of the boxing ring with the field positions of soccer and hockey. Players scramble, swim, climb, throw, block, and dodge elbows all while treading water. The pool creates a fluidity of these motions which makes this “brutal but very elegant game” deceptively smooth.

The close-knit team advocates for a greater campus awareness of the sport. Matches and scrimmages are frequently held in Teagle, so spectators are free to watch any home games or matches during spring’s offseason. The team welcomes the Cornell community to learn more about their sport and support men’s water polo in their pursuit of excellence.

Want to find out more about Cornell Men’s Water Polo? Contact Coach Grossman at


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