Men’s water polo begins season, adapts to referee ruling changes

water polo

Chapman beat Golden West College Sept. 5 at home 14-13. Chapman shot 30 shots and Golden West College shot 31. Since Golden West College is a junior college, this game does not count for Chapman’s overall record. The Panthers play next in the Aggie Roundup tournament Sept. 15 and 16. Photo by Orion Huang

Chapman’s men’s water polo team is adapting to a new nationally enforced set of rules, said head coach Eric Ploessel.

Many water polo referees across the U.S. have adjusted their judging style this season, interpreting the rulebook more literally than in previous years, Ploessel said.

Referees are now “to apply the rules as written” in hopes of making the game more “fan friendly” by emphasizing athleticism over physicality, Bob Corb, the NCAA Water Polo National Coordinator, said in an open letter posted on Water Polo Planet on June 13.

“Every team in the nation is adjusting, and it’s very different in water polo right now,” Ploessel said.

The referees have begun to call the game more closely to how it is written in the league rulebook, something they have not always done in the past, Ploessel said.

In a statement posted on Aug. 30 on the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) website, the NCAA Water Polo Rules committee addressed concerns about the physical aspects of the game, highlighting a rule stipulating that two-hand restricting holds and one-hand restricting holds should be deemed fouls by referees.

Players can receive offensive or exclusion fouls for either of these violations, the statement said. While this might not seem like an extreme change, senior team captain Brady Hoskins said it has been especially frustrating for him as a two-meter defender.

“In my position, you basically lock up and wrestle the entire time,” Hoskins said. “That’s traditionally what that position does, but now they’re saying you can’t really be touching each other. So I literally did not know what to do with my hands.”

Ploessel plans to modify team tactics to accommodate the rule changes, he said.

“We’ve got to really adjust to the way it’s called and the way we play,” Ploessel said. “So we’re teaching (the team) a completely different way of how to play this game right now.”

In past games, foul calls varied depending on the referee, said freshman attacker Graham Asalone. Although the changes are difficult to adjust to, Asalone said it’s just a step in the process.

“You’ve got to adapt,” Asalone said. “Before it was like, you don’t know what to expect, because if you get a different referee it could have been called (more strictly).”

In addition to overcoming changing referee styles, Ploessel said the team is working with several new players, creating a different dynamic.

“We’ve had so many new players. (Asalone is) one of our leading scorers as a freshman, and then the next leading scorer is (Vasil Halchev), who’s a transfer,” Ploessel said. “Ethan (Walter) who’s our third leading scorer right now, is a freshman.”

Despite the changes, the team will continue to work toward making the playoffs and winning the conference, Ploessel said.

“The top four teams make the playoffs, we’re trying to get one of those top four spots. Because you don’t know, even a No. 4 seed could win this conference,” he said.