Courtesy of Nick Ward
When most people think about Alabama sports, the first thing that comes to mind is football. Not many think about water polo.
The Alabama water polo team is looking to change that.
The current program started five years ago. Its home is right here in Tuscaloosa at the Alabama Aquatic Center. The team practices four times a week. In just a short time, Alabama has created a winning culture in the water.
Competing in the Southeast Division of the Collegiate Water Polo Association, the Crimson Tide has earned three straight division titles. Their first came in 2017 when Alabama defeated Georgia Tech. Since then, the Crimson Tide has maintained that winning culture so synonymous with Alabama Athletics.
Last year was hard for the team. The Crimson Tide returned from a tournament in Florida in March 2020 expecting to continue preparations for a tournament in Tennessee.
Then everything shut down.
The University closed its doors and turned to remote learning. All activities — including water polo — were postponed indefinitely. When students returned in fall 2020, life in the pool was drastically different.
Nick Ward, the president of the water polo team, remembers how different the sport was.
“We kinda just came to practice every couple days, and we couldn’t even scrimmage,” Ward said. “It was very limited.”
Despite the limitations put on the team in 2020, this year the Crimson Tide got back to their winning habits.
The team began its season in Tennessee on Sept. 26 and finished the tournament with a 4-0 record. Less than a month later, the Crimson Tide went undefeated again at Georgia-Southern University.
Alabama finished the season 8-0 in its second undefeated season in program history.
It’s Ward’s first season as the president of the club.
Alabama earned that record the same weekend Alabama football fell to the Texas A&M Aggies. That made Ward the only undefeated Nick in Tuscaloosa. He relished in the moment for a bit, but he doesn’t like to brag about it much.
“I know I’ll get beat up if I say that too much,” Ward said.
What Ward will brag about is his fellow officers and teammates. He credits them and outside organizations — like the Huntsville Water Polo Association — with his smooth transition to president.
Ward was the treasurer last season. He didn’t do much given the restrictions in place, but his teammates helped him navigate to an undefeated season in his first year as president.
That, according to Ward, was an expectation coming into the season.
“When I was a freshman, that was the first undefeated regular season,” Ward said. “Since that was all that I had ever seen, that was kind of the expectation for me.”
Now, the team’s attention turns to the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s National Championship.
The tournament is set to take place in Huntsville, Alabama, just two and a half hours north of Tuscaloosa. Being the host team, the Crimson Tide earns an automatic bid. Alabama will be joined by 14 other teams in the association in Huntsville.
“Short of the Olympics, it’s some of the best water polo I’ve ever seen,” Ward said.
Alabama is looking to earn its first win at nationals this year against some tough competition. Amid that, the team is hoping to bring some much-needed attention to the sport.
Fans are being encouraged to attend nationals in person. However, a broadcast will be available to the public. More information will be given at a later date.
“If there is anyone that has any interest in seeing a water polo game, that is the place to do it,” Ward said.
Fans can follow the water polo team at @alabamawaterpolo on Instagram for updates.