Men’s water polo dives into competition

Most of the Illini men’s club water polo players found themselves naturally drifting toward the pool when college came around.

“We like to be in the water, we want to be competitive, we used to be swimmers, this is natural for us,” said Mike Berkemeyer, the team’s lone senior.

The 20 team members need to be ready to swim, as the pools are usually 9 feet deep, with a 30-meter long playing area. Practices are held four days a week, with three days of swimming and intense drills and one day devoted solely to scrimmaging.

“Speedos are mandatory, not optional,” president Austin Travers said in an email.

“None of the Big Ten teams have Division I programs,” Jeremy Trinchere said.

“So they’re all club pretty much, and we’re really competitive in the Big Ten.”

“Michigan State has been the conference powerhouse for ‘forever,’” he added.

Nearly every year, the Spartans win conference and claim the bid to the national meet. On Oct. 1, Illinois lost to Michigan State 9-4 at a tournament at Iowa.

The Illini beat the Spartans once, in a conference match two years ago in a double-overtime and sudden-death match. They are waiting for that win to happen again, when it counts at the Big Ten Championship at Purdue the weekend of Oct. 29.

“Everybody’s always like, ‘We’re gonna win this year,’ but we are gonna win this year,” junior Eddie Walsh said. “It’s a possibility, seriously.”

Illinois is different from the other Big Ten teams as the only team without a coach. Illinois uses a hockey-style lineup, unlike everyone else, where they sub players in and out more often.

“Every couple minutes we run a new line,” Walsh said. “We try to keep people fresh and we take advantage of our speed and depth.”

A stranger may be confused, though, when walking past and hearing calls of “chicken wing” or “Azkaban,” different names for the plays.

“Everyone knows the plays who play water polo, but we have code names so they don’t know exactly what we’re talking about,” Trinchere said.

And the polo players do more than just play together. Many of them are roommates in the same house, “The Polo Palace,” where team meetings, parties, exchanges and everything else are hosted.

The players hang out together, and many of them work at Derald’s Catering, the food truck next to the Illini Union. Everything comes together, it’s more than just Speedos and swimming laps.

“We do it because we enjoy it,” Berkemeyer said. “Not parts of it but all of it.”