Burrell graduate Hydock awash in water polo talent
Gannon water polo coach Sean Morphy said his team is comprised of players from high school and Olympic development programs.
Incoming senior Jessica Hydock, however, is an exception.
Hydock is a Burrell graduate, and the WPIAL does not sponsor water polo.
That did not stop Hydock, who had been a member of the Buccaneers swim team and served as team captain, from jumping into the sport and continuing her aquatic career.
“Our high school swimming coach, Diane Swigart, had us play water polo in swimming practice,” Hydock said. “I liked it and learned the correct way to play. When I went to Gannon, I spoke with (then-coach) Don Sherman, and he suggested that I walk on to see what it was like playing on the collegiate level.”
Swigart is a member of the Collegiate Water Polo Association Hall of Fame.
Sherman resigned following Hydock’s sophomore season to focus on his duties as associate athletic director. He was replaced by Morphy.
“The fact that Jess decided to pick up water polo at the collegiate level was really tough,” Morphy said. “Our program and schedule requires a lot of time to put into something you have never done before, but Jess was at practice daily and worked to make herself better to help the team.”
Hydock is enrolled in Gannon’s nursing program and is a member of the International Nursing Honor Society. She played in all 20 games this past season.
“In college, I wanted to try something different, and I’ve enjoyed the challenges of water polo,” she said.
Hydock’s water polo position is driver, basically a utility position, explained Morphy, adding water polo has only three specialty positions: goalie, hole set and defensive hole set.
Morphy said the Knights endured a tough season, which didn’t offer utility players considerable playing time.
Hydock, who participated in the 200- and 500-yard butterfly and individual medley at Burrell, noted her first goal came against Grove City.
“Jess’ strength comes in her tenacity,” Morphy said. “She is a really tough player and gives 100 percent all the time, especially in practice to help the team improve. Water polo is physically exhausting, and Jess has adapted to the game and the rigorous style of play. Jess is very smart and passionate, and those attributes are evident in her game. She has gotten stronger every season.”
Hydock said water polo is played in a regulation-size pool. Players are not permitted to touch the bottom of the pool or it becomes a turnover.
“We tread water a lot,” Hydock said with a laugh. “We may be in the water for 30 seconds and already need a break from sprinting back and forth. You can be in excellent shape but still need that break.”
Hydock said her first game as a freshman marked the first time she had seen an organized water polo game. She suffered a concussion in her sophomore season when she was struck in the head with a ball. She plodded her way back into the water.
“Getting back in the water this year has been worth the work,” she said.
College water polo season runs from February to May.
Gannon finished 6-14 last season and was seeded sixth in the six-team Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) championships.
Les Harvath is a freelance writer.