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Club team finds way to beat up on conference competition

April 24, 2001

The MSU women’s club water polo team knows firsthand how sweet victory can be.

The team won its first Big Ten Championship on Sunday at Ohio State, defeating Illinois 4-2. The team will travel to Miami (Ohio) May 4-6 for the national championship tournament.

Captain and goalie Lydia Ripple said she felt “complete happiness” after the win.

“I feel like all of our hard work is finally paying off,” she said. “We had to fight hard.”

The water polo team, a club sport since 1992, competes with varsity and club teams within the Big Ten.

Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin are on the verge of going varsity while Michigan and Indiana are currently the only two Big Ten schools that recognize water polo as a varsity sport.

Head coach Erika Orns said there are many constraints the team battles in order to compete.

“The girls on the team are supporting the team in every way,” she said. “If we didn’t have the type of girls we have in this program, it couldn’t survive.”

The team holds several fund-raisers throughout the year to finance its suits, equipment and travel expenses.

While not a varsity sport, Orns said the club’s athletes are in no way less committed.

“When you’re on a varsity sport, you’re able to concentrate on your studies and your sport,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about finding coaches, and you’re given all the equipment. The level of commitment includes many different aspects to keep the club running that varsity sports don’t have to consider.”

Orns said she hopes the national tournament’s location will be beneficial to the team.

“Being at Miami of Ohio is a major advantage monetary-wise because we can drive instead of fly,” she said. “It’s nice having it close to home, and I’m hoping we’ll have a strong fan base while we’re there.”

Freshman Jillian Fargo, a driver on the team, said she considers her team a varsity sport.

“In the back of my mind, I don’t even realize we’re not a varsity sport,” she said. “I consider us a varsity sport even though we don’t get the money or the support.”

Fargo said team unity will be key as the team prepares for nationals.

“Being close as a team in the next two weeks will be big,” she said. “We all know our roles on the team and we need to take time to figure out where we want to go and what we need to do to get there.”

Leah Kropf, a fifth-year captain, said competing with the team brings a discipline to her life that she enjoys.

“Playing water polo makes me put a lot of things, like my school work, into perspective,” she said.

Kropf said the team’s ability to sacrifice is a key factor in its success.

“We give up a lot of things to play water polo,” she said. “It’s too bad that MSU has not realized how great our team is.”

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