On October 20, a chilly Saturday afternoon at the Anteater pool, the UC Irvine men’s water polo team played a scrimmage against former UCI water polo players in a friendly alumni game. The game, played one day before the Anteaters start conference play, was marked by dark clouds, but there was thankfully no rain – just some good-natured fun competition in the pool.
The alumni jumped out to a fast start grabbing a 6-1 lead, but the current team would come back, only to eventually fall short. But the real story wasn’t about the game; it was about the players, past and present, participating together. One of the captains, Winston Newland, was asked about the upcoming season.
“We have our conference games starting this week, we play Santa Barbara and USC at home and it would be great to grab wins from them because they are all good teams,” said Newland candidly.
But he wants some help from his fellow Anteaters. “We’ve got a good team, we expect to do big things, but it makes us want to play better when we have a big crowd here. It really is exciting and it gets us going, I would love that.”
So come out and support your water polo team; who knows, one of your fellow Eaters might become a very famous alumnus one day. The alumni roster is a testament to that, filled with former All-Americans and past and current Olympians. Facing such an accomplished alumni team made the day very interesting for the current team.
“The game was a lot of fun and hey, there’s a lot of good guys in that pool,” Newland said while looking over towards the alumni. “We have some Olympians here, [Ryan] Bailey, [Jeff] Powers and [Tim] Hutten, and they make us want to play better, seeing the guys that came through here and their success.”
UCI water polo flexed its muscles internationally in the 2012 Olympics in London, where the Anteaters had Bailey, Powers and Hutten represent UCI in the Summer Games.
“I’ve been to all sorts of championships, but nothing compares to the Olympics. The media coverage is outstanding, knowing people back home are watching,” Powers beamed while toweling off. “And yeah, I’m a little disappointed in our result this time around [USA finished eighth after winning a silver medal in the 2008 games] but I have no regrets.
“Going forward I might retire, I have a family to focus on now.”
Despite the sad realization his career might end soon, Powers heaped his gratitude upon his alma mater that made it all possible when asked about the role UCI has played in his rise to fame.
“UCI means a lot to me,” Powers grinned, “I didn’t get recruited much out of high school, only by UCI, but UCI had a great staff and head coach, they all propelled me and helped me immensely. Without UCI, I wouldn’t be where I am today, I wouldn’t have been in the Olympics.”
Powers is just one of many Anteaters happy to come back and rekindle their Anteater roots. In a corner of the pool, long before the game had even started, three alumni were playing catch. Casually flipping the ball to each other, they show off their handy ball skills as they made the mundane look flashy with backhand catches and throws and smooth spins of the ball. Exemplifying the deft skills they honed years ago in this same Anteaters Aquatic Complex, these three alumni unwittingly proved that though the years may pass, UCI Water Polo still holds a special place in their hearts. For so many of the alumni that came back on Saturday morning, the chilly weather simply exaggerated the warm feeling of coming back home.