Swimming World Presents – The Pride of Gateway City: St. Louis Lions To Be City’s First All Girls Polo Team

SW February 2012 -St Louis Lions - Gateway City First All Girls Water Polo Team
St. Louis Lions with Coach Rob Peglar (back row, center)

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THE PRIDE OF GIRLS’ POLO
IN THE GATEWAY CITY

By Michael Randazzo
Photos by St. Louis Lions Water Polo

When COVID-19 lockdowns last spring stopped polo, Rob Peglar and Abby VerMeer didn’t hesitate: they focused on getting girls water polo untracked in the Gateway City. The result: the St. Louis Lions, the city’s first all-girls team.

The launch last year of St. Louis’ first-ever all-girls water polo club was a development to cherish during a pandemic.

Prior to the pivotal year 2020, would-be girl water polo players either competed on coed squads or struggled to stay out of the shadow cast by boys-only polo.

Then came the St. Louis Lions, the culmination of decades-long advocacy for girls to have a team of their own. Before the COVID-related lockdowns last March that paralyzed communities across the U.S., a handful of St. Louis high schools had agreed for the first time on a girls-only league, one that would officially crown a Missouri girls’ state champion.

The coronavirus changed all that.

According to Rob Peglar, a long-time St. Louis coach, the shutdown of 2020 was “depressing.” With no polo for an extended period, Peglar and his fellow coaches brainstormed about how to continue their girls-only dream.

Their solution: the Lions, a club by and for girls.

“Considering all of this happened during the pandemic, it’s all the more amazing,” he said. “I don’t know if the Lions would have formed without that catalyst.”

WHAT TOOK THEM SO LONG?
The 1904 World’s Fair, an unusual combination of exposition and Olympic Games, drew attendees and athletes from all over the world to St. Louis—except for polo. Top European water polo teams declined to attend, allowing the American men to capture gold, their only top finish in Olympic polo competition.

St. Louis clubs were regular contenders at the AAU Indoor Championships, and the 1960s saw the emergence of the Clayton and Daisy clubs—among the country’s oldest. Then growth stagnated. According to Miguel Figueras, a Clayton age group coach and regional coach with USA Water Polo, despite being sanctioned by the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA), growth of polo in the “Show Me” state has barely nudged. In 1990, the city had 16 high school teams; 30 years later, only five more have been added.

Peglar, who began his polo career in 1973 at what is now called Ladue Horton Watkins High School, recently retired from a decades-long career as a coach and referee. What bedeviled him and others: how to convert girls’ swimming in St. Louis high schools into a viable all-girls polo program.

“The (main) impediment to all-girls water polo was that no one believed it could thrive, so no significant attempts were made to start a club or form a high school league,” he explained. “Few realized…(that) there was a mostly unspoken feeling high school girls didn’t want to play with the boys; they wanted to play against each other.”

Figueras pointed to structural obstacles. Carefully brokered arrangements with the MSHSAA allowed adventurous girls to compete on boys’ teams. But there was a restriction that prevents those playing with the boys from also participating on all-girls squads.

Pool time made scarce due to existing aquatics programs also seemed insurmountable—that is, until last year, when sheer persistence resulted in six high schools (Ladue, Lafayette, Lindbergh, Marquette, Oakville and Parkway North) agreeing to conference play and a state championship tournament for the top four finishers.

Once COVID shut down their dreams, Peglar, Michael Clay (head boys’ polo coach at Ladue) and two of Clay’s assistants—Jacob Jagodzinski and Abby VerMeer—realized there was only one thing to do: pick up the pieces and
start over.

 

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SW February 2012 - Emma McKeon COVER[PHOTO BY DELLY CARR, SWIMMING AUSTRALIA]

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Swimming World Magazine February 2021 Issue

FEATURES

012 THE PRIDE OF GIRLS’ POLO IN THE GATEWAY CITY
by Michael Randazzo
When COVID-19 lockdowns last spring stopped polo, Rob Peglar and Abby VerMeer didn’t hesitate: they focused on getting girls water polo untracked in the Gateway City. The result: the St. Louis Lions, the city’s first all-girls team.

014 ALL FOR ONE AND ONE FOR ALL
by Dan D’Addona
The popular motto of The Musketeers, built on supporting each other as well as the group, is just one of many reasons why the University of Texas remains among the strongest in men’s college swimming and diving.

020 READY FOR A BREAKTHROUGH
by Andy Ross
Melanie Margalis is an Olympic relay gold medalist and a three-time relay champion at Worlds, but a podium finish in an individual event has eluded her on the world’s biggest stage. After ranking No. 1 in the 400 IM and No. 3 in the shorter medley for 2020, her turn to win a medal for the United States could take place this year in Tokyo.

022 PERSEVERANCE AND HARD  WORK PAY OFF
by David Rieder
After not qualifying for Australia’s Olympic team in 2012, Emma McKeon was ready to quit…but over the next several months, she had a change of heart and understood what was necessary to compete at a higher level. Since then, she has become a significant international force, a consistent podium presence and one of the world’s most impactful relay swimmers.

026 TAKEOFF TO TOKYO: TARNISHED GOLD
by John Lohn
East Germany’s Kristin Otto will long be remembered as a highly decorated athlete, and for turning in one of the greatest Olympic outings in history, winning six gold medals at the 1988 Games. But because of the links to her and performance-enhancing drugs, what she accomplished—before and in Seoul—will always be tainted.

029 WHO “SHOT” THE SWIMMERS? (Part 2)
by Bruce Wigo
Shortly after the 1936 Olympics in a lab in Boston, Harold “Doc” Edgerton, an electrical engineering professor at MIT, began tinkering with equipment that would change the way science explains natural phenomena—and with it, the art of aquatic sports photography—forever.

032 NUTRITION: TO BE THE BEST, YOU NEED TO EAT THE BEST!
by Dawn Weatherwax
Each year really does build onto another—nutrition is an imperative part of the process, even at an early age.

COACHING

016 SELLING PROCESS TO SWIMMERS (Part 2)
by Michael J. Stott
In 1993, psychologist Anders Ericsson wrote that greatness wasn’t born, but grown. Fifteen years later, author Malcolm Gladwell suggested that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a skill or field. Known by the term, “process,” swim coaches use that learning curve to improve the performance of their swimmers.

036 SWIMMING TECHNIQUE CONCEPTS: FREESTYLE TECHNIQUE FOR SPRINT AND DISTANCE (Part 2)
by Rod Havriluk
Optimal freestyle technique for sprint and distance is identical with respect to the arm motion throughout the stroke cycle, but the arm coordination is different. While a swimmer can swim a wide range of velocities with opposition coordination, a swimmer will only achieve his/her fastest velocity with superposition coordination.

040 SPECIAL SETS: TRAINING THE PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE—THEN AND NOW
by Michael J. Stott
In his lengthy career, Gregg Troy has mentored athletes of all ages and abilities, which has given him a unique perspective of how to prepare post-college grads for excellence at the international level.

042 Q&A WITH COACH JOE PLANE
by Michael J. Stott

044 HOW THEY TRAIN ANDREW IVERSON
by Michael J. Stott

TRAINING

035 DRYSIDE TRAINING: TIME TO GET STRONG…AGAIN!
by J.R. Rosania

JUNIOR SWIMMER

038 GOLDMINDS: JUST GO WITH THE FLOW
by Wayne Goldsmith
How can you control—and even master—your emotions? The answer is by learning to become a more resilient swimmer. Here’s how…

046 UP & COMERS: RICHARD POPLAWSKI
by Shoshanna Rutemiller

COLUMNS

010 A VOICE FOR THE SPORT

011 DID YOU KNOW: 

ABOUT FREDERICK LANE?

047  GUTTERTALK

049 PARTING SHOT

 

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