My Open team had some experience going for it and we also had some youth on our side. But we didn't have any subs and we had never played together. I hadn't even met one of the guys before we suited up. And we started against the Canadians who we all expected to be the top team. But it turned out that we won the game. Rather handily. Won the next one, too. We ended up winning the whole division by playing some great team polo. It was great to find a group that worked so well together without a lot of time or practice. No drama or fighting, no one hogging the spotlight or trying to be the big man. Just good, honest teamwork. It was one of the funnest days of polo I've had and the result was just the icing on the cake.
The next day was the start of the club championships and it was a completely different team and different competition. I would once again be representing the UCLA club that I had been a member of when it was first formed back in 2001. Even though I no longer lived anywhere close, without a local team I was allowed to play with my old club under the tournament rules. Many of my previous teammates were still around so we tried to put the band back together. We couldn't get all of the old guard but instead recruited some new blood. Always a good thing in the long run but it creates some doubts for the present. Can we gel in time? Are the newbies over their heads? Are the old timers just plain old? I really wasn't sure how it would go.
This time we started against New York who had some strong players but wasn't expected to be challenging for the title. We planned on keeping things simple and played conservatively as the new guys who hadn't played in the Open division got their legs under them (so to speak). We came out with a win and were feeling pretty good. It didn't last long. Our second game was against Austin, the two-time defending champs, and they thrashed us pretty good. Our lack of experience together and some fitness issues were evident. But the most important thing was that we stayed tight as a team. Everyone took responsibilities for their mistakes (we all made them) and everyone was supportive of each other as we got ready for our next game.
|UCLA Men (l to r): Me, Ge, Danny, Patrick, Rob|
Now that it's all over, I'm back to being a retired kayak polo player. My shoulder survived the weekend but it didn't enjoy it at all. My recent move has also put me even further from any club to play with. So I'll go back to the ocean and the rivers. But I'll keep the polo gear clean and ready for the next occasion that pulls me back in.
And congratulations to all the winners at the U.S. Kayak Polo National Championships:
Open: USA 1 (my team)
Club A: Austin Aquabats
Women: Unstoppable Unicorns (mostly California girls)
Club B: Bat Shot Crazy (I think from Texas)
If you have no idea what kayak polo is like, this is a little introductory video:
And here's some action from the 2009 U.S. National Championships: