Victory without mercy

With winter weather rolling in, student athletes found themselves training indoors to avoid the frigid temperatures. As a headband-wearing pickleballer, I know this frustrating experience all too well.

The women’s water polo team at Holy Cross, however, doesn’t have to worry about that problem. “Holy Cross’ endowment fund was fleeced when the prior board committed to buying a used yacht in the ‘70s,” said Holly C. Ross, Holy Cross College Historian. She continued, “So we couldn’t afford to install a pool in our gymnasium. Rather than give up on women’s water polo, the administration decided to apply its natural resources instead.” The result is the most powerful team east of the Mississippi fueled by its unique home court advantage: the St. Joseph River.

This advantage has elevated Holy Cross from the NAIA to a Division I program. “We are the only team in the NCAA to play all of its home matches in a river,” bragged Faustina Davis, the co-captain of this year’s squad.  Rules disallow wetsuits or water wings, but there are no rules against a home court located a mile downstream from the local water processing discharge. And there is one other detail: Women’s water polo is a winter sport.

“I’ll admit it,” shared Faustina, “Sometimes the girls complain a bit.”

“Complain?” interjected her teammate Bella Christopher. “We hate it! Practice starts at 5:00 a.m. And Sven, our Norwegian coach, makes us break the ice off the river as part of our warm-up routine. Before we played Tennessee last week, he played ‘Rocky Top’ on a loop to associate our hatred of the cold with hatred for the enemy.”

But it’s all worth it in the end, right? The victories, the dominance?

“I used to dream about championships, now I dream about soup,” said one player, out for the season due to frostbite-related injuries.

The Saints are 17–18 so far this year with a 17–0 record at home. They traveled to California over Christmas break and faced a devastating loss without the home-court advantage. But when California played the Saints in the Bend this past week, the Bruins had to forfeit the match halfway through due to too many players having been swept downriver.

“Those southern American schools are no match for the ruthless power of the North,” gruffed head coach Sven Svedman. “Don’t forget, it was ice that took down the Titanic.”

The Saints are led by center forward Katherine Ellis from Boston with 31 goals, including 30 at home. “I don’t really mind the cold or Sven. In fact, my family is from his town in Norway. I kind of enjoy watching my opponent’s lips turn blue in the ice water. Sometimes I even tell them to look out for the snapping turtles just to freak them out before scoring.”

Their recent match against the Aggies was close until hypothermia set in for the visitors during the second half. They were unable to move in the 32.1-degree water. Ice was starting to form along the banks. Eventually, the Aggies began to lose their footing in the swift currents of the river. At one point, their goaltender was swept 50 meters downstream, screaming for help. “That’s when we moved in for the kill, right on schedule,” boasted coach Svedman. “Our secret to battling currents is ankle weights.”

The Saints are currently ranked 23rd in the power rankings and fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament. Road losses to St. Norbert’s College, Illinois Institute of Technology, and various community colleges can’t make up the gap for home victories over Stanford, USC, and the entire SEC.

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Photo credit: Matthew Rice

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