Connecticut College Magazine · Summer 2013

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Women's water polo wins league championship

Women's water polo wins league championship
Coach JJ Addison (center, in white) celebrates with members of the women's water polo team moments after the team won its first CWPA Division III championship.

Water polo is a quirky sport, with a basketball-like flow, a soccer-like setup and culture-based rules reminiscent of golf. Coaches can be dismissed (a polite way of saying ejected) from a game for any number of reasons. Which is why, with just minutes to go in his team's league championship game on April 13, head coach JJ Addison was crouched in the doorway of his office in Lott Natatorium, as close to the pool deck as he could be without touching it.

Dismissed from the game for challenging calls, Addison was a bundle of nerves and energy as he waited for the final seconds to tick off the clock. When the match ended, the Camels had beaten three-time defending champion Grove City College 6-3 to claim the first league championship in the history of water polo at Connecticut College. For Addison, who sprang from the doorway and leaped into the pool to celebrate with his players, it was a dream 10 years in the making.

Connecticut College's men's and women's water polo programs were started just 13 years ago, with a grant from the U.S. Olympic Committee as part of an effort to grow the sport at the collegiate level. With no other varsity programs in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), the women's team competes in the College Water Polo Association's (CWPA) Division III league, formed in 2009 for teams from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Grove City had won all three previous Division III titles. But Addison, who has coached the Camels for 10 years, was confident going into the championship game. Despite having a young team, Connecticut College was hosting the tournament after posting an impressive 12-6 regular season record (12-3 against Division III opponents) and garnering a No. 8 national ranking.
?By halftime, the Camels were up 2-1 and had the momentum.

“I was so hyped up; I don't know why I was questioning calls,” Addison says. “It was clear we had control of the game. I was just so excited.”

The Camels were up 4-1 with five minutes left when Addison received a red card, which meant he had to leave the bench. Assistant coach Ryan Pryor had received a red card during the semifinal match and was sitting out the championship game, per NCAA rules. That left the Camels with no coach.

“It was crazy,” recalls tournament MVP Nicky Jabson '15. “I was so focused during the game that I didn't even realize what had happened until we had to stop the game.”

A frantic search ensued to find a College representative who could fill in for Addison, per NCAA rules. Athletic trainer Daniel Siopa, who was watching the game from the stands, assumed coaching responsibilities and is credited as the winning coach, per NCAA standards, for the game and championship.

“I've never played water polo in my life. I never dreamed I'd win a championship,” jokes Siopa, who says he will retire from coaching the sport with his undefeated record.

In the end, the change on the bench did little to disrupt the Camel offense, which increased the lead to 6-1 before all of the team's seniors were substituted in.

“Coach Pryor and I felt good about the fact that we'd coached the players so well all year they didn't even need us for those last few minutes,” Addison says.

With the win, the College earned an automatic bid to the CWPA Championship in Michigan, where the team finished ninth, the highest finish for a Division III school.

Water polo season highlights

• Overall record: 17-7; 17-4 vs. non-Division I opponents
• 17 wins equals the team's previous two best seasons combined (eight wins in 2010, nine wins in 2012)
• First win over a top-10 team
• Seven wins against teams Connecticut College had never beaten
• First-ever wins against Division II teams
• Won 13 of last 14 games
• CWPA Division III champions
• Placed ninth at the CWPA Championship (highest among non-DI teams)
• Ranked in top 10 nationally (DIII) for most of the year


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