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Underwater grabbing, fingers poked in the eyes, suits ripped to shreds during games. That is the stuff of which water polo games are made. So what are Caroline Marnock and Kerry Laing-Ronay doing on the Harvard men's varsity water polo team?
"Four years ago I came here and talked my way onto the team," says Quincy House junior Laing-Ronay. "I just wanted to get enough experience playing polo so that I could go home and play for a summer league team in Altadena, California that was going to make a trip to Hawaii."
In the four years since then Laing-Ronay has become an integral part of the men's team, attending all of the workouts and suiting up for games. "I never had any problems being accepted by the guys," she says. "As a matter of fact, they used to be so worried about me getting hurt that they were overprotective."
In contrast, Winthrop House sophomore Caroline Marnock is a newcomer to the men's team this year. Having swum competively for eight years, Marnock, an all-American backstroker in high school, decided to channel her athletic energies into the women's water polo team last spring. "I was tired of the swimming competition, plus I just like playing a team sport more," she explains.
Marnock started playing water polo as a high school freshman in Houston, Texas. In her senior year she was selected to play on the state water polo team that went on to place well in the Women's Senior National Championships in Florida.
Although Marnock feels that her swimming background helps her against less talented opponents, both she and Laing-Ronay agree that ball-handling and good tactical moves are more important skills. "You need a lot upstairs to be successful in polo," Laing-Ronay explains, adding, "Water polo is a much more thoughtful sport than people give it credit for."
Four years ago Laing-Ronay was the only female who attended any of the Ivy League tournaments--prompting some complaints from other coaches who objected to her being suited up on deck. Since then she has seen increased acceptance of women in the sport, including the addition of females on the MIT and University of New Hampshire men's teams.
Water polo's elavation from club to varsity status this year has enabled Harvard to recruit better players and raise the level of play on the team, and although Laing-Ronay admits this will lower her position on the team, she is excited at the prospect of Harvard approaching the excellence UCLA exhibited when they toured the East two weeks ago and left their opponents drowning in the gutters.
"We were very pleased with how we played against them despite losing 29-5," Laing-Ronay says, adding that Harvard scored more points against UCLA than did any other team in the East. "UCLA is representative of West Coast play--much more developed and strategy-oriented. We were thrilled we even scored on them."
Both Marnock and Laing-Ronay emphasize that they have never felt any hostility or antagonism from the men--even in situations when they start ahead of other players. "They treat me as an equal--they pass to me and work me into the plays," Marnock says.
John Hanse, co-captain of the team, agrees with this assessment. "They are very much a part of the team, and the guys have always been very acceptive of them," he says.
Both Laing-Ronay and Marnock praise coach Stephen Pike for making them feel at ease in the male-dominated atmosphere.
"I was really apprehensive at first--I didn't want any 'girl' privileges," Marnock says, "But Steve doesn't discriminate either for or against us. We are played exactly according to our abilities."
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