Mason is home to the highest ranked college underwater hockey team in the nation.  The team placed 10th overall out of several adult, club and college teams at the  national tournament this past spring. This semester, they are looking for recruits to replace graduating players, five of whom have gone on to play for the U.S. national team.

Underwater hockey is more than just the subject of a random factoid mentioned on tours to prospective students; it’s a full fledged team that is part of a growing national community.

Having originated from the United Kingdom in the early 1950s as a game called Octopush, underwater hockey has slowly been on the rise for the last half century. It has also found a home at Mason.

The sport is similar to its icy counterpart except it is played in eight feet of water and does not require a goalie.  From above the waterline, it looks like feeding time at the aquarium, but under the water, it is a scene of precise passing, swift swimming and intense play.

“Everyone should come out for one day and try it. I thought it would be a lot less interesting, but I came out and loved it” freshman Cody Spraker said.

Spraker had plenty of options for student organizations to get involved in on campus.  However, Spraker said that after running track and cross country in high school, he wanted to try something really different; he found that with underwater hockey

“It’s a one-of-a-kind sport. The only 360-degree sport,” said Dan Yocum, club President. “When a player has the puck, an opponent can come at you from any direction: left, right, in front, behind, above or below,”.

Senior Chris Fischer explained how the game has a steep learning curve, but is actually just like a lot of other sports, particularly hockey and lacrosse. Offensive strategy focuses on passing the puck between mids and attackers around the defense’s perimeter until a hole is made, or until the other team synchronizes its breathing incorrectly.
The sport largely revolves around communicating when a player is ok to stay underwater or when he/she is in need of air. Players often cycle from the surface to the bottom in intervals ranging from 10 seconds to a minute. This playing technique is the first wall that new players have to overcome.

“[During] the first week, [new players are] often just sucking down air the whole time, getting used to playing in the equipment. But quickly after, [they] start picking up on things,” Fischer said.

Fortunately for the players, the club provides all the equipment, including sticks, pucks, snorkels, gloves, flippers and masks.  The only item a player needs to bring is a swimsuit.

The team practices on Tuesdays from 9 to 10:30 p.m., Fridays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and Sundays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the competition pool of the Aquatic and Fitness Center.  The team features both guys and girls from nearly every athletic background, which is a huge factor that contributes to the team’s success.

“If you can float, you can play underwater hockey,” Fischer said.

The team sent five rookies to nationals this past year and even more to away tournaments all over the continent. They have traveled to Florida, California, Canada, Michigan and Illinois. The team travels by van using its club funding to cover travel expenses.

To gather some interest for new players, the team is hosting a tournament on Oct. 20 at the Aquatic and Fitness Center.  Teams from near and far, including George Washington University, the University of North Carolina and Michigan State University, will come to participate and give new players a chance to meet other rookies and returners.

On such a competitive position on the national level, this tournament will play a big role in foreshadowing how the rest of the year may pan out.