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Violence underwater makes polo extreme

By Daily Bruin Staff

Oct. 30, 2001 9:00 p.m.

By Adam Titcher
Daily Bruin Contributor

In the middle of a water polo meet against USC, UCLA junior
two-meter defenseman Matt Flesher had his eye poked and nose
smashed by a Trojan. During a timeout, he cleaned up his blood and
returned to the pool.

En route to a 9-8 win at the NorCal tournament on Oct. 14, he
did not need that much treatment, except for a little support from
his teammate.

“At the timeout he asked me to punch him in the face to
take away the pain from his nose, so I did,” junior two-meter
defenseman Dan Yielding said.

Yielding’s right hand is no better than Flesher’s
nose, with the multiple bite marks he attained from a USC
player.

The scabs are still a deep purplish red a whole three weeks
later.

“At the college level, referees let a lot more get away
because all the guys are more skilled and big,” Yielding
said.

Collegiate men who play water polo are not only athletes.

They are warriors.

The game of water polo has been characterized as a game of men
in speedos, playing with a ball in a pool. The game, however, is
nothing less than extreme, tough and dangerous.

Water polo players experience continuous foul play. Under the
water, knees are jabbed into their backs on a daily basis and they
suffer the occasional fractured rib.

“Whenever you are getting hit in the kidneys, it can never
be a good thing, but there are certain areas where you just want it
to be left alone,” UCLA head coach Adam Krikorian said of the
possibility and common occurrence of being grabbed below the
waist.

The game is dirty but it has always been this way. It is not a
surprise to the players; they say they enjoy the dirtiness of the
game.

“I tried to break someone’s arm before,”
senior two-meter offenseman Alfonso Tucay said. “I was just
so pissed off.”

Yielding feels anger is integral to the sport and he even
suggests using the opponent’s pressure points to get better
position in the pool. But it is not simple.

The players are incredibly fit because of the game’s
tremendous demand. Krikorian knows that if a player takes three
days off, he will fall behind in conditioning.

The team hits the gym to build physiques similar to those of
football players in order to get a physical advantage in the water.
While it takes time to put on muscle, playing daily brings about
the concern of keeping on any new weight.

“I spoke to a nutritionist and he said our guys burn about
10,000 calories a practice,” he said.

Much like a seven-foot, 330-pound professional basketball center
holds his own in the key, Tucay too battles in front of the
net.

Since water polo is similar to basketball and wrestling,
strength can help get a perfect shot. Yet the obstacles of a pool
make it tough.

An NCAA regulated pool is no less than six feet and seven inches
deep. Treading water becomes one of the most important aspects of
the game.

Also a game’s clock is deceiving. The 28 minutes that
appear in the box score usually run longer than an hour due to
stoppage in play for fouls, timeouts and quarter breaks.

With their muscles aching late in games, players revert to rough
play to gain an advantage. It is common for opponents to kick
someone underwater when the referee is not looking.

The rough play increases as the hatred for an opponent grows.
UCLA has played Stanford a trio of times this season and will
possibly play them once more. Each game has increased the tension
between players.

“Some teams are dirtier than others, but that is because
of the rivalries,” Krikorian said. “There is a hatred
for one another in the water because the competitiveness develops
over time. You literally see the same team over and over
again.”

There are myths that players use razor blades and staples, but
those are false. Krikorian feels that no one is dumb enough to use
a weapon.

Today’s weapons are hands and body strength.

In the same day that Flesher had his nose smashed by USC,
Yielding was in charge of stopping Tony Azevedo in UCLA’s 7-4
NorCal championship loss to Stanford. Before the game ended,
Yielding got the last word with a hit to Azevedo’s face.

“Payback is always the best revenge,” he said.

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