Students can enjoy over 50 different sports societies at Stirling University. The more popular ones are easy to name: football, rugby, or basketball. Stretching your imagination a little might propound lacrosse or karate. One of the more seldom considered sports, however, is underwater hockey.
Informally known as octopush, underwater hockey sees two teams of six equip snorkel and fins to battle over a weighted hockey puck at the bottom of a pool. Using miniature hockey sticks, players push the puck towards their opponent’s goal in thirty-minute matches.
Underwater hockey is relatively low-profile within the university, with its society only containing eleven members. Competitive play allows ten to a team – six active players and four substitutes – stacking the odds against Stirling who can’t rely on a deep bench of players.
The team was recently put to the test in a major tournament that gathers clubs from all over the country, and the University of Stirling confidently fought through the competition to claim a top spot.
The Gowland Cup is hosted by Aberdeen University every year and took place last month on January 19. There is some dispute over who truly claimed first place, but the evidence leans towards Stirling. It was at least a top three spot, but Aberdeen struggled to supply a final word (despite hosting the tournament just a few weeks ago, but I digress).
Stirling’s fantastic performance at Gowland is a clear indicator of the university team’s talent, but it doesn’t reflect the society’s popularity. Four-year player and society secretary Harriet McNaughton believes the sport’s nature can often make it difficult to engage with.
Underwater is in the name, essentially making it a non-spectator sport. Moreover, a lot of people simply haven’t heard of it. Conversations about octopush usually end with “just look it up on YouTube”, Harriet laughs.
Those who do delve in seemingly can’t get enough though, with Harriet being a prime example. Since discovering underwater hockey in her first few weeks of university, she became enamoured by the sport and its now part of her daily life.
This love and commitment from Harriet and her teammates clearly works well for their performance in the pool. Reiterated by the recent Gowland Cup results, Stirling University are considered the best team in the country.
“Stirling have been the strongest team in Scotland in recent years, and one of the top five in the UK” confirms Ewan Flintham, the British Octopush Association’s student representative and committee member.
Despite the success, certain struggles still exist within a society with so few members. If one year, for example, the team fails to recruit enough new members, then the society’s entire existence is at stake. This is obviously very stressful at times, especially with the sport already being relatively unknown in Scotland.
Having such a small group does have its benefits as well though. It allows the team to truly get to know each other, Harriet explains. “You know where they’ll be for a pass, what their strengths and maybe weaknesses are in a game”, and so on: qualities that are much harder to achieve in societies boasting dozens of members.
Its perhaps this aspect that allows them to dominate. Despite most members starting from scratch when they reach university, Stirling produces incredible underwater hockey teams each year.
Stirling wears the badge of being Scotland’s university for sporting excellence, but smaller societies are often lost behind popular giants like football or tennis. Sport extends so much further though, and part of Stirling’s excellence is in the vast array of sporting opportunities it offers.
Underwater hockey is a glowing example of this, with the university’s team being incredibly niche but even more so talented. Credit is due to Stirling for promoting octopush, but more importantly to the group of players that allow the society to prosper.