Rock Island’s Augustana College is ready to make a splash, after announcing this week they’re going to be adding men’s and women’s water polo to its varsity sports lineup beginning with the 2021-22 school year.

Director of athletics Mike Zapolski announced in a press release on the Augustana site that the two genders of water polo will give the Vikings 14 women’s sports and 14 men’s sports. Just last week Augustana announced that women’s wrestling would become a varsity sport, also in the 2021-22 school year. Zapolski is beginning a search for a new coach and the job has been posted on the site and other job boards.

“Internal conversations about the possibility of adding men’s and women’s water polo as varsity sports began in earnest more than two years ago when the administration imagined the possibility of building a new, multi-use facility that would include both an academic and athletic component,” said Zapolski in the release. “The plan for a larger pool not only allows for the expansion of our men’s and women’s swimming rosters, but the addition of two new sports that will help Augustana in its overall enrollment efforts.”

This will be the seventh varsity sport added since Zapolski became the director of athletics in June of 2008. Women’s lacrosse and men’s lacrosse were announced in 2010 and added in 2012 while men’s volleyball and women’s bowling started competition in 2018 after the decision was made in 2016 to add them. In February of 2019, Augustana unveiled the plans to add women’s water polo and then men’s water polo, both of which will begin play in 2021-22.

“Our plan is to replicate our current staffing structure for swimming and tennis and hire one head coach who will lead both programs,” remarked Zapolski in the release. “Most people are not aware that approximately 80 high schools in Illinois sponsor boys’ and girls’ water polo programs, so our recruiting efforts will focus in Augustana’s traditional area of strength plus other locations such as California and Florida.”

Men’s water polo is a fall sport with competition between September and December and in December of 2019 the College Water Polo Association (CWPA) hosted the first ever Division III national “championship” at Whittier College in Whittier, California. NCAA Division III institutions that sponsor men’s water polo include Austin College, Cal Lutheran, Cal Tech, Chapman, Claremont Mudd, Connecticut College, Johns Hopkins, LaVerne, MIT, Monmouth, Occidental, Penn-State Behrend, Pomona Pitzer, Redlands, Washington & Jefferson and Whittier.

Women’s water polo is a spring sport and its competitive season is January through April. Carthage, a member of the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin, was scheduled to host the first-ever CWPA Division III championship later this month but that has been cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Other NCAA Division III schools that sponsor women’s water polo include Austin College, Cal Lutheran, Cal Tech, Carthage, Chapman, Claremont Mudd, Connecticut College, Grove City, LaVerne, Macalester, Monmouth, Occidental, Penn-State Behrend, Pomona Pitzer, Redlands, Utica, Washington & Jefferson, Whittier and Wittenberg.

The sport of water polo continues to grow in the number of teams on the high school level per the 2018-19 High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHA). A total of 862 high schools in eight states sponsored boys’ water polo this year for a total of 22,475 participants, while 881 high schools in seven states field girls’ water polo with 21,735 athletes. Combined the sport of water polo has 44,210 players – an increase of 675 from the 2017-18 survey.

According to USA Water Polo, the governing body of the sport, there are 19 Division III women’s water polo programs spread across California, and in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Minnesota, Wisconsin and New York. There are 14 men’s water polo programs at the Division III level and Augustana will be just the second one not located on either the East or West coast. Currently, Monmouth owns that distinction for the men.


Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.