When the Carleton Ravens women’s water polo team takes to the pool for the 2016-17 season, they will do so as a competitive club, rather than a varsity sport.
The change comes after Ontario University Athletics (OUA) announced on Feb. 5 that women’s water polo would be removed from its list of sport offerings.
Under the OUA guidelines, a sport must have a minimum of six teams of the league’s 20 members competing in the annual OUA championship in order for it to qualify.
As there are only five teams currently competing in women’s water polo, the OUA made the decision to remove the sport. As per the league rules, the sport was originally placed on a year-long probation for the third time in four years in December 2014.
“We did look to see if there were other programs that would join the OUA. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough support,” said Jennifer Brenning, Carleton’s athletic director.
“The respective universities that had teams entered had all petitioned our athletic directors. We’d been in conversation with the OUA itself and have been working in tandem with other universities to try to help them gain, not necessarily varsity status but gain support and momentum from the universities,” Ravens head coach Victoria Peters said.
“It’s not just this year, we’ve been trying for years . . . but it’s not an easy process and it’s difficult,” she said.
Despite it being her final year as a Raven, Emma Cooke, the team’s captain, said the decision was “really, really disappointing.”
“We definitely knew going into it, like our coaches made it really clear that that was a possibility and they were doing all they could to try and keep that from happening,” Cooke said. “But yeah, we were definitely really worried.”
“It’s just really sad,” she said. “I feel really bad for my teammates. I hope it doesn’t discourage the players that aren’t graduating this year from continuing to play.”
Historically, water polo has been played at Carleton for decades, and according to Brenning, that isn’t going to change, regardless of the OUA’s decision.
“We’re still planning to support a women’s water polo team,” Brenning said. “We’ll be most likely operating that as one of our competitive clubs that will participate against other universities, like the University of Ottawa that’s a club program already.”
With the decision, the women’s water polo team joins a list of 17 other competitive clubs at Carleton, including baseball and lacrosse.
Club teams at Carleton are funded through grants from the Carleton University Students’ Association’s clubs and societies program.
“I think the difference [between varsity and club status] is an OUA banner,” Brenning said. “The men will now have an OUA banner to compete for, whereas the women may have a competitive experience but not that OUA banner.”
Nevertheless, Cooke said there are some benefits to being a club team.
“It’s unfortunate because we don’t have that level of competition, but at the same time there’s actually more teams we can play against as a club team,” Cooke said. “So it has some benefits, there were only five teams in the OUA and now there’s going to be . . . quite a few more teams that we’ll actually get to play against.”
“I’m sure it’s probably going to affect a lot but I can’t predict it yet because it’s so new,” Peters said. “Historically speaking [Carleton has] always done very well medal-wise, so you know what, I don’t think that recruitment will be an issue, I think I’ll be able to pull another 20 girls and that’s the goal. Keep the team big and keep it going.”
After a waiting period of three years, teams will be able to apply to the OUA to have the sport reinstated, provided that it meets the minimum standards for competition.
“It was hard. Frustrating, very frustrating,” Peters said about the OUA’s decision. “It’s difficult but I don’t doubt that one day we’ll be able to get back to varsity status, and that’s the goal, to keep fighting towards it and to keep the program strong and keep the morale up.”