Oxford University Water Polo Club has a rather distinguished history. The water polo Varsity Match is the oldest water polo fixture in the world, with the men’s match originating in October 1891 – nine years before the first Olympic final – meaning that last year’s match was a significant one, marking the 125th anniversary of the match. It was also a meaningful one for the men’s team, with their 10-7 victory being the first for the Dark Blues for six years. However, both the women’s and men’s seconds teams both lost narrowly, meaning much is at stake for this year’s match, coming up towards the end of this term, on Saturday 25th of February.
The history of the varsity matches has generally been an unfortunate one for dark blue teams, with the men’s team having won 34 matches to Cambridge’s 67. The ladies match, only begun in 1984 after an attempt by Oxford to field a woman in the previous year’s men’s game, has a similar balance with Cambridge leading Oxford 22 to 11 overall, although recently victories have been more evenly distributed. Despite these disappointing records, the Oxford teams this year will feel omens are good, particularly after a 13-10 home win for the men against Cambridge in last week’s BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport) match, although home advantage is with the light blues for Varsity.
BUCS competitions also hold out some hopes of glory for OUWPC. According to society president Khi Huin Shek, the men’s first team have a good chance of making it to the BUCS finals for the first time, after agonisingly falling short in the past few years at the semi-final stage. A trip to Barcelona last year, which gave the team an opportunity to face up to some of Europe’s premier youth teams, will, he hopes, give the team the added experience to beat their university rivals, especially those team which benefit from students on sports scholarships. In terms of league performance, both Oxford firsts teams are firmly ensconced in the middle of their respective leagues (the Premier South and Midlands 1A), while the men’s seconds have a relegation fight on their hands having lost their first two fixtures in Midlands 2A. A cup run, or varsity success, hold out the best chances of sporting glory for OUWPC this year.
The Oxford teams this year will feel omens are good, particularly after a 13-10 home win for the men against Cambridge in last week’s BUCS match.
In terms of star players for the Oxford teams this year, OUWPC can boast both class and international pedigree. Joseph Ortiz, the men’s captain, has represented Team GB at various youth levels, and is in the Great Britain training squad for the upcoming World University Games in China. He also plays in the National League for West London Penguin water polo club. His vice-captain, Neo Seh Woon, has the impressive accolade of a goal at the Commonwealth Water Polo Championships – against Team GB no less! For the women’s team, Khi Huin Shek points out Rosanna O’Keefe and Charlotte Newman as potential stars. O’Keefe won a full Blue for the Cambridge team last year, winning the Varsity Match in the process, before moving her studies to Oxford. Newman meanwhile, is the Women’s Swim Team Captain, meaning that her strongest asset is exhibiting a dangerous turn of pace which has made her into one of the women’s team’s key players this season.
Although the club has international calibre stars, Khi highlights the varying degrees of experience seen from the different members of the club. Khi himself has played since early on in secondary school, a situation he says is common among club members, but equally many at OUWPC are new to the game since coming to university. The state-of-the-art Rosenblatt pool at the Iffley gym complex is a big boon to the club, providing top-class facilities that many clubs lack, such as an adjustable floor to the pool. But with a club of around sixty members, it is the team atmosphere and camaraderie, as much as the facilities, which encourages new members. Khi highlights how well those first experiencing the sport integrate into the team, in particular in the women’s team. “Despite the initial gulf in experience, our less experienced women make astounding progress with the guidance of our excellent coaches and senior players and quite quickly become stalwarts in the team.” The seconds team provides a similar development arena for those hoping to join the men’s firsts, who have usually been playing for several years at least.
The water polo Varsity Match is the oldest water polo fixture in the world, with the men’s match originating in October 1891.
While many reading this article will not think of water polo as a big sport in their lives, the club certainly has history. With international quality, and hopes for BUCS success, OUWPC should be considered by more as among the big sports clubs of Oxford. One thing is for sure though – there will be plenty wishing for dark blue success when the Varsity Match comes around next month.