Courtesy: Indiana Athletics
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The Indiana University women’s water polo team’s pursuit of excellence took a landmark leap on Friday afternoon.
The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) announced the addition of Indiana University as its seventh water polo affiliate, placing the Hoosiers against the best NCAA teams in the country and the world’s top young players.
“This is a huge day for Indiana University Water Polo,” said Indiana University Vice President and Director of Athletics Fred Glass. “We are thrilled to be joining the premier water polo conference in the nation, and excited about what this means for our program. For 25 years, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation has championed the growth of the sport nationally, and Indiana University is excited to be a part of that as we begin this new, exciting journey together.”
The transition will see Indiana enter league play with Arizona State University; the University of California, Berkeley; San Jose State University; Stanford University; the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); and the University of Southern California (USC). The teams will begin competing alongside Indiana as conference foes in the 2019 spring season.
“It’s an exciting step in our history and a visionary move by our administration for our sport,” said Indiana head coach Ryan Castle. “Indiana water polo has grown tremendously over the last 22 years. We came from humble beginnings, but this move shows that our administration has faith in our potential. Moving to the MPSF is a huge challenge for us, but it signals where we want to be positioned in the national conversation.”
Castle, entering his third season at the helm of the program, will face one of the toughest tasks in program history this fall as the Hoosiers ready for the immense challenge presented by the MPSF. A member of the league has won all 18 NCAA titles since the sport gained varsity status in the 2001 season. In 17 of those seasons, the championship game saw two MPSF rivals face one another.
In the 2018 campaign, every league member landed in the final top-20 while occupying the top five spots in the polls.
“The MPSF is the toughest league in the world, far tougher than any professional leagues,” Castle said. “The teams we will face take water polo very seriously and have a strong history in the sport. It’s a daily challenge for us, and meeting these teams in a conference setting changes the dynamic, but we relish in the task at hand.”
The inter-region merger is a testament to the growth of water polo in Bloomington since the first club team took the pool in 1998. From the first NCAA championship year in 2001, the Hoosiers have 16 seasons with 20-plus wins and a trio of appearances at the NCAA Tournament. A perennial figure in the top-20 rankings, Indiana ended the 2018 season at No. 15 with a 25-9 record.
What does this mean for Hoosier fans in Bloomington and around the country? For starters, Indiana will host a handful of electric conference games in their upcoming season. In a league where the round robin includes defending champion USC, Stanford, UCLA, California, Arizona State, and San Jose State, the Hoosiers are bound to bring some of the world’s toughest opposition to the Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center. And after igniting a raucous crowd in two ranked home games last year, the Hoosiers are eager to show their new conference counterparts how the Midwest shows out for water polo.
“I’ve coached all around the world, and there’s no louder facility than the Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center with the Crabb Band playing and the stands filled with fans,” Castle added.
The move also increases Indiana’s presence on the West Coast during the regular season, much to the delight of 11 Hoosiers on next year’s squad and the team’s vast alumni base in the Golden State. Of the 146 student-athletes who played water polo at IU over the last 20 years, 66 (45%) came to Bloomington from California.
But it won’t be enough for Castle and the Hoosiers to make the cut as a member of the fiercest league in women’s water polo, to be associated with the endless streak of NCAA Champions from the conference. They joined the MPSF to compete with the best, beat the best, and eventually bring the NCAA Championship trophy to Indiana.
That process began with the program’s foundation two decades ago and took a crucial step today.
“When I first arrived in Bloomington,” Castle added, “the athletes asked me how often we would be able to play against the best of the best. The kids that we brought here came here for a specific reason: they want a world class education, and they want to compete against the best. That’s what Hoosiers want.”