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The sport that’s like ‘rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time’

Lizzy Soranno looks for a teammate to pass to. A game of water polo consists of four seven-minute quarters wherein players try to score goals by throwing a ball into nets that float at either end of the pool. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Ask Emma Viveiros what it’s like to play water polo, and she’ll tell you it’s like “rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time.”

True. Except you’re also trying to keep track of 13 other people in the pool. And trying to throw a water polo ball into a net or stop the opposing team from throwing it in yours. All in water that’s too deep to stand.

“It works a lot of different parts of your brain at the same time,” said Viveiros, who is president of  Northeastern Women’s Club Water Polo. Since it’s not a varsity sport, the team is self-run with a volunteer coach.

“It’s the best sport in the world,” said the team’s coach, Nicole Logan, a doctoral candidate at Northeastern. “Everything you need in order to do anything physical, you can learn in water polo.”

Senior Adrienne Peng takes a shot on goal. The team practices in the pool in the Cabot Physical Education Center. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The game consists of four seven-minute quarters wherein players try to score goals by throwing a ball into nets that float at either end of the pool. Each team comprises six players and a goalkeeper, and unlike soccer or basketball, players aren’t generally sequestered to offense or defense, but instead play both.

“In water polo the positions are just a bit more fluid,” Viveiros said. “No pun intended.”

During the season, Northeastern plays in three tournaments against the seven other collegiate teams that comprise the New England Division.

Logan’s goal is that the team make it to national championships in the spring. This summer, she coached New Zealand’s Under-18 water polo team in the World Women’s Youth Water Polo Championships, and she played the sport herself for the better part of her life, until injury took her out of the game.

Only a few athletes who play for the women’s water polo club team at Northeastern had ever tried the sport before they joined the team. But with an experienced coach at the helm, and passion enough to go around, that’s OK.

“I can’t go without water polo for too long,” Logan said. “When I’m coaching, I can see it all unfolding in front of me in a way I know other people can’t.”

The sport has a passionate following among those who play it. The team at Northeastern practices twice a week from 8 to 10 p.m., and lifts weights on their off-days. The athletes are still students, so they’ll often study together before and after practices.

In short, it’s a big commitment—a commitment that the student-athletes balance quite well. The team tied for the highest collective grade point average in the Collegiate Water Polo Association in 2018, and 12 Northeastern players were recognized as part of the association’s Scholar-Athlete Team the same year.  

Viveiros and Logan described the team as a particularly close group of friends. Perhaps that’s partly trial by fire, perhaps that’s partly because so many who try out for the team have never played before (not many high schools have water polo teams, after all), or perhaps their bond stems from a combination of all these things. For the Northeastern crew, it’s a team effort from the start.

Courtesy photo

“I was on my high school swim team, and wanted to find a way to be in the water in college,” Viveiros said.

So, she tried out for the team her second year at Northeastern and hasn’t looked back since.

“I really love the sport,” Viveiros said. “Every time I get out of the pool… I don’t know, I just feel really happy. And it’s taught me I don’t have to be afraid to try new things.”

The team will play two scrimmages during the fall semester: the first on Sunday, Oct. 28 against Boston University, and the second on Sunday, Nov. 11 against the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Anyone interested in learning more about the team can email

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