The friendships and close-knit spirit drive the Underwater Hockey Club, getting students to jump into a sport they’ve never experienced before.
Imagine being at the bottom of the pool, struggling to keep a breath of air in the lungs — and trying hit a puck into a net with a one-foot stick with others jostling to defend.
The shot is up, the goal is scored, now the race to the surface begins. It’s in desperation for another breath of air. There is a lot heavy breathing, surrounded by white water as players churn to the surface.
One last breath is taken before duck-diving back in to resume the game, then repeat. This sounds chaotic, but it actually a sport that Michigan State’s Underwater Hockey loves to play. It’s like regular hockey (kind of), but just underwater.
It’s a nuanced sport, with a touch of insanity, and the Club always finds players who want to try the experience for themselves.
“I chose to attend Sparticipation my sophomore year,” said Emily Nestle, senior and club president. “There were these players in Speedos and snorkel-gear and caps. I said, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, I wonder what this is about.’ The flyer was for underwater hockey and I ended up loving it.”
Standing outside with Speedos on, being in front of hundreds of people is a sign of sheer openness and acts as the calling card for the most unique individuals.
One of these individuals that flocked to the team was Joe Voisinet, an Institute of Agriculture Technology student at MSU.
“When I was little, I always loved to swim,” said Voisinet, a native of St. Johns. “In high school, I joined the swim team and I really loved that. I went to MSU, I wasn’t a good enough swimmer to join the varsity team and I was looking for a different thing to do.”
Upon starting his two-year-program at Ag-Tech in 2019, Voisinet began looking for ways to connect with people and have fun in a pool setting.
“When I was looking online for clubs to join, I saw underwater hockey and thought, ‘There’s no way this is even real,’” Voisinet, 19, said. “By the second time I went [to practice] I was like, ‘This is awesome, I really like this.’”
Under normal circumstances, the team would host its practices on campus, either at Jenison Field House or IM Circle. But due to COVID-19 and the health/safety precautions that follow, the team’s organized gatherings, practices and season have been put on hold.
Much of the responsibility of team orientation and organization lies in the hands of Nestle.
“My biggest priority is that my team stays safe and healthy,” said Nestle. “It’s been quite difficult, especially with the uncertainty of the pandemic. But it’s been doable because I have such great teammates and a great support system.”
Finding ways to practice in such a unique sport without a pool can have its difficulties. However, for Voisinet, things like this are easily bypassed. Living on a large farm next to a big pond, Voisinet took advantage of his special demographic. Voisinet would spend most of his time this past summer swimming in his pond, preparing himself for the season and just enjoying the water.
In a sport where verbal communication is absent (due to most of the time being spent underwater and with a snorkel on), the subtle, nonverbal communication is key in success. Practice and player bonding is imperative for any sport, but it is even especially important in this sport.
“That is a challenge,” said Nestle. “It takes lot of muscle memory, knowing who’s going to be where, knowing when you should curl away from an opponent and knowing who might be there is a big part of ‘communication’ and that takes practice.”
Practice, repetition and knowing teammates’ movements beforehand are the true tools to victory in this sport.
“You have to figure out how your teammate is going to play more-so than how the opponent is coming at you,” said Voisinet.
The strong bonds that are made underwater also exist on the surface as well.
“You have to have a really strong connection in practice with your teammates,” said Nestle. “Those relationships develop outside of the pool too. We have a really strong sense of support networking for each other. We have a Snapchat group, sport-watching parties, it’s just a really good community to be a part of. I’ve met so many amazing players and amazing people—I love the sport, but that has to be my favorite thing.”
With uncertainty looming around the state of the world due to the pandemic and even more restrictions being implemented as things evolve, it is unlikely that this team will have a season in the foreseeable future. With a season that normally starts in the fall and ends before finals in the spring, facing schools across the Midwest, the club may not see any action until 2021.
For Voisinet, being in a two-year-program meant 2020 would be his final year at MSU and conversely, his final year playing on the team.
“It sucks because this spring everything got cancelled,” said Voisinet. “I was thinking [in the fall], ‘You know, at least I’m going to play underwater hockey.’ Now I don’t even know what I’m going to do now.”
The drive, passion and commitment to playing this kind of sport takes an orthodox type of person to match. The unbridled love these eccentric players have for this sport cannot be found anywhere else but underwater.
“I think a lot of the passion comes with like, you got to be a little crazy to play something like that,” said Voisinet. “You're going underwater with a snorkel and just a little stick that's about a foot long and you're just going at it with somebody. I can't imagine a better club I would have joined.”