LOS ANGELES -- On the list of popular sports for Canadians, water polo might rank right behind beach volleyball and sailing, but if a small group of Canadians get their way women’s water polo might enjoy much more prestige in the coming years.
Five athletes at Indiana are certainly doing their part in trying to expose more of their country to the sport and it appears their efforts are not in vain.Shae Fournier, Jessica Gaudreault, Allison Campbell, Meghan Lappan and Shelby Taylor represent four Canadian provinces and all of them recognize they can grow the sport in their home country.
“It’s definitely gotten bigger there than when I started,” Campbell, who is a senior from Vancouver, British Columbia said. “I’m heading back in a couple of days to coach for the team I started with and will be telling them about my experiences at Indiana.”
Recruiting players north of the border was a necessity for Indiana Coach Barry King, who realized trying to get kids out of talent-rich Southern California was almost an impossibility.
“In terms of geography and the domestic kids the vast majority of them are on the West Coast and their options are abundant out there,” King said. “When we were realizing we weren’t going to have the fairest shot at some of the higher level kids we had to figure out somewhere else to go recruit.”
Canada wasn’t King’s first choice and he was a little surprised that there were quality players there.
“My first one came in 2000,” King said. “Getting the first one wasn’t difficult, it was difficult getting the second one. It was tough getting the second one in and then the next one and that consolidation. There was a little larger span in there that I wanted.”
But others eventually followed and soon several were taking recruiting trips to Bloomington, Indiana.
“There really isn’t a lot of opportunities for the sport in Canada,” Lappan said, who is from British Columbia. “We saw a lot of girls who came to the states and played in the NCAAs. I knew a lot of girls who came here from Canada and I knew I wanted to come here. From grade 10 I knew this is where I wanted to go.”
Unlike California athletes, who have ideal weather, training and swimming facilities, Canadian players have fewer resources so most are impressed by the Indiana program.
“We don’t really have anything like they do say in California,” Fournier, who is from Manitoba, said. “We have a small water polo club so if want to play at a high level we have to come to here. We have a national team but coming here gives us the chance to come to college.”
King is also very adept at selling the school and the advantages of coming to Bloomington.
"There is nothing that looks like Indiana in Canada so when I can get people to visit that is a big step getting them to wanting to come,” King said. “We talk about the differences and we embrace them. That’s what makes Indiana, Indiana and there are kids that want something different. They want that total college experience.”
“I had been playing on the National team with Shae and she had already gone down there and was telling me about it,” Taylor said, who is from Alberta. “We were pretty close and once I saw the school on my recruiting trip my mind was pretty much made up.”
King jokes that the Canadian connection has “snowballed” but is serious about how much he values their contributions.
“They’ve come down had success academically and athletically and they go back and tell younger girls,” King said. “It’s definitely worked for us. The next generation is already there before I even get up there to visit with them. They know who Indiana is by virtue of the previous ones and it’s really served us well.”
“Barry loves his Canadians,” Gaudreault said, who is from Ottawa. “Knowing all these girls made it really easy to come here and I really love the campus.”
“There is a lot more competition for athletes up there now than there was 10 years ago,” King said. “Having that head start was really advantageous. I don’t necessarily have to go up there and mine for gold. I will have people up there call me and say this is someone you need to look at. Plus the women I have now are my best ambassadors for the program.”