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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Lather on that sunblock and slip into a speedo, it’s time for some pure dedication


UC Davis coach and player debut on the USA Water Polo National League

Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Crabtree and Dwyane Wade what do these men all share in common? Besides the fact that they are stellar athletes and celebrities in the sports world, they all left their college careers early to pursue professional sports.

There are virtues and problems with the practice of athletes leaving college early to go pro, but this opportunity only exists for the few sports that have robust professional leagues. In America, water polo is not one of these sports. Instead, USA Water Polo hosts the National League, a four-weekend long series of tournaments.

This year marks the first time UC Davis sent participants to the league. Sophomore goalkeeper Spencer Creed and head coach Daniel Leyson answered the call for team USA Norcal.

“It’s very gratifying; I’m very happy to be selected,” Creed said. “To be able to go out to these various locations —  Southern California, Las Vegas and coming up Berkeley — and to play with the very best guys in the country is very rewarding.”

The National League poses an interesting challenge for its members. Teams do not train together and often come from various schools, backgrounds and clubs. This leaves the players little time to meld and learn from each other’s play styles since they only see each other on the weekend at the tournaments.

“So much of it is individual because we don’t train,” Leyson said. “You have to show up and be ready and interact with these guys.”

To do well at these tournaments, both coaches and players have to invest heavily in a high level of mental energy, and there is also a stressed importance on communication.

“We all play relatively high level college ball. Whatever school these guys go to, they are most likely to be stars,” Creed said. “To open your mouth and say what’s going on so everyone is on the same page eliminates a lot of issues and problems.”

An interesting feature of this style of league has been that the games feel more like an All-Stars series than a proper league. Different teams are composed of players at various skill levels; there’s a team featuring high school athletes, two teams featuring collegiate athletes, and other teams hosting former and current Olympians of the sport.

“The teams aren’t exactly even. There’s NYAC, New York Athletic Club, and they are the best,” Creed said. “When the guy you are told to drop off of is a first-team college All-American graduate who has been playing professionally for the past few years, it’s kind of funny.”

Furthermore, Creed was able to play against his younger brother, Duncan Creed, who had been named to team USA Red — one of the teams of high school stars. The two are separated by four years and have never played against each other in an official capacity.

Throughout the series of tournaments, USA Norcal has rallied back from some tough losses, taking home a big win over Olympic Club.

“The thing that stands out the most is our victory over Olympic Club,” Leyson recalled. “It’s always good to end a weekend with a victory rather than a loss.”

Not only do Leyson and Creed take home great memories of victory, they also each benefit from the heightened level of competition.

“I honestly believe that every time you coach a game or you coach a team, you get better in some way. Sometimes it’s not evident in really what it is; in certain instances, it can be certain interactions with some players,” Leyson said. “Maybe you’re used to talking to your own players in a certain way, you talk to a player from a certain program and they don’t respond that well, or they are confused.”

So what does this league mean?

“It’s an indication that, when you have players who are willing, in the off season, to play at maybe higher level games than you would see in season. When they are willing to play games in the off season; it shows that they have a certain mentality about the game, that they love the game, and they want to play more,” Leyson said. “They are playing for a different reason than somebody who, as soon as season is over goes, ‘I don’t want to touch, I don’t want to play a game, I don’t want to do anything.’”

For these two members of the Aggie community, that reason is pure dedication.

The championship of the National Leagues will take place on Saturday, April 30 at the UC Berkeley.

Written by Aaron Sellers – sports@theaggie.org


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