They wanted a team of their own. Mary Sundy ’97, Brigid Fitzpatrick ’98 and Katie McCoyd ’98 were among the women who had played for the Notre Dame men’s water polo club. In 1995, they approached captain Brian Coughlin ’95 about starting a women’s counterpart.
If they could find nine players who’d practice every night, Coughlin told them, he’d arrange a game. Both sides held up more than their end of the deal. Fourteen women attended the practices and Coughlin organized a four-team Midwestern tournament with a fellow captain from Bowling Green.
Notre Dame won the tournament, establishing a triumphant tradition for this unlikely, and largely unknown, Fighting Irish sport. The next season the club became a founding member of the Midwest Division of the Collegiate Water Polo Association. Ever since, it has been one of the region’s best, never finishing below second place, and frequently challenging for the national title.
Coughlin, an associate vice president in student affairs, has served as the team’s volunteer coach since he returned to campus as a rector in 1999. Participation is open to any female student, regardless of water polo experience, and the club has attracted quick learners.
The team has ranked among the nation’s top 12 since 2001, including a stretch of seven consecutive weeks at No. 1 during the 2009-10 season. In 2009 and 2015, the club was runner-up at the national championships and also reached the semifinals in 2002.
There have been more than 80 All-Midwest selections over the years, 51 named to the first-team, and 11 regional MVP winners. Lauren Kuzniar ’02 (2001 and 2002) and Betsy O’Neill (2007 and 2010) each earned the honor twice.
A dozen Midwest Division titles include a streak of nine straight from 2007 to 2015. Each season culminated with a regional MVP, a list that includes Bridget O’Neill ’07, Kelly Horner ’09, Ali Durkin ’11, Maisie O’Malley ’12, Victoria Anglin ’13, Rachael Glenister ’14 and Ellen Dowling ’15.
Grand Valley State ended Notre Dame’s run in this year’s divisional championship game April 17 at Rolf’s Aquatic Center, but Maddie Renezeder ’16 and Colleen Fricke ’16 were named first-team All-Midwest, reflecting the depth of the Notre Dame women’s water polo talent pool.