The (Growth) Beat Goes on: Urbana University to Add Women’s Water Polo in 2020

Urbana University's pool is about to get very busy! Photo Courtesy: Urban University Athletics

In what demonstrates a continuing upward trend for intercollegiate water polo, last week Urbana University in Ohio announced that it will add a women’s program beginning in 2020. As reported in a press release put out by the Urbana Athletics Department, when they jump in the water the Blue Knights will become the nation’s 11th Division II school to add varsity polo. They will join regional rivals McKendree, from Lebanon, IL, which brought men’s and women’s teams online three years ago, and Millikin University located in Decatur, IL, which announced last November that they will add a men’s and women’s program, also in 2020,

“Women’s water polo is growing quickly and Urbana is proud to add the sport to our athletic programs,” said Dr. Christopher Washington, Executive Vice President and CEO for Urbana. “I look forward to on-boarding a new coach to lead our team.”

urbanaUU polo will be an independent member of the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) which consists of both varsity and collegiate club programs that compete for a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or National Collegiate Club (NCCC) Championship.

CWPA Commissioner Dan Sharadin believes Urbana will be the first of several Division II schools in the Midwest to add water polo in the next few years.

“I could not be more excited about the addition of women’s water polo at Urbana,” Sharadin said. “With high school water polo expanding in Ohio, not to mention the surrounding states, they will have plenty of interested recruits.

“It is a great fit for the school and will help attract the type of academically oriented student-athletes typical in the sport of water polo,” he added.

According to, there are currently 15 boys and 11 girls high school teams competing in the state.

Also chiming in about this positive news is Steve Doten, Commissioner for the Western Water Polo Association, which exclusively consists of Division II programs, and whose 2019 women’s championship will be hosted by Gannon University at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio.

“This is great news for college water polo,” Doten said in an email. “I’m glad schools in the Midwest see the potential for our great sport—and I hope more schools add water polo.”

Referencing USA Water Polo’s and the CWPA’s recent announcement of DIII National Championship earlier this year, Doten added: “I’d like to see it followed by a DII National Championship.”


McKendree, 2018 Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference West Champs, had a path to quick success. Photo Courtesy: CWPA

Beside regional opponents Gannon, Mercyhurst and Salem—all DII programs, neighboring Wittenberg University started its Division III program two years ago.

Larry Cox, Urbana University’s Executive Director of Athletics responded to Swimming World about how his school’s new program will provide a lift for a sport that’s looking to establish a presence in Ohio athletics.

– What is the appeal of water polo for your athletic department? It’s not (yet) a popular sport, and there’s not a long tradition of success in Ohio. 

Urbana University likes to look at unique, niche sports when reviewing options for expansion of sport offerings.  We also already have a pool which is underutilized, so the infrastructure and capital costs are not prohibitive.

– The closest polo rivals for the Blue Knights are Wittenberg, and then schools in Erie, PA and Illinois. How will this sport help build new rivalries for your school? 

Besides Gannon and Mercyhurst, there is also Salem University available in order to build some regional rivalries.

[Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference Report: Salem University’s Eclectic Water Polo Program]

– Will the head coaching position be full-time? And, will you be looking for a regional pick or is there a hope of bringing in a coach from outside the Midwest? 

The position will be full-time and we’ll be exploring all applications with an emphasis on prior recruiting experience.

-What sort of success do you imagine for any new athletics program at Urbana? 

Success is quantified in many ways including wins/losses, hitting roster goals for enrollment, graduation rates, etc., but we also look at other ways to measure success including how a team comports itself in and out of the pool, are they representing the very best of the university on campus, in the classroom and in the community, are we expanding opportunities for women’s athletic programs, and are they having a great college experience that makes them feel they made the right decision in choosing Urbana University?  We take a holistic approach to measuring success here as part of the Blue Knights Way.

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3 years ago

Polo in every pool!

3 years ago

Great news. But sorry aquatics sports are being cut in big numbers across all levels. Beat down vs Beat going on? I know cynical but seems to be the real trend