McIntosh makes splash

The only girl playing varsity water polo in the MIAA, Kat McIntosh of McDonogh isn't afraid to make waves - or mix it up with boys.


Kat McIntosh was 2 years old the first time she saw her mother dive in the big tank at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Nose pressed to the glass, she watched her mother, a volunteer diver, float into a rainbow of hundreds of fancy fish. At first, the scene fascinated the toddler.

"And then the food came out and the fish just swarmed," said Kat, laughing. "I banged on the glass, `Don't hurt my mommy.' "

Nowadays, it's Kat McIntosh who's getting swarmed in the water and her mom, Linda McIntosh, who watches a bit nervously from the pool deck.

Kat, short for Kathryn, is the only girl playing varsity water polo in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association's A Conference.

The McDonogh junior also plays for the Naval Academy Aquatics Club women's team and can more than hold her own with the guys in a game that is extremely physical.

"What she lacks in physical strength [compared to the boys], she more than makes up for in her swimming ability, her knowledge of the game and her tenacity," McDonogh coach Scott Ward said, whose team is seeded fourth heading into Saturday's MIAA championships.

While her mother likens the sport to rugby, Kat McIntosh, 16, describes a water polo game as "28 minutes of non-stop sprinting thrown in with wrestling your opponent."

With six players and a goalie on each team, the game is a bit like playing soccer with your hands while swimming or treading water. Except for the goalie, players may handle the ball, about the size of a volleyball, with only one hand at a time.

So much one-on-one jockeying for position creates a lot of action above and below the water.

"You need to be able to draw a good foul, because a lot of the sport you could say is acting, what the ref sees," McIntosh said. "A lot of people are under the impression that if the ref doesn't see it, it's legal."

McIntosh has faced a few overly aggressive players in high school games and club games. In her first McDonogh varsity match, she suffered a broken nose.

"The first four minutes of the game, I stole the ball, passed it off and the next thing I knew ... they scored, we're lining up again and I'm being called out of the water. I touch my face and blood is all over my hand. I didn't remember getting hit."

For the most part, however, McIntosh said, Eagles opponents treat her as just another player. The ones who don't, she can handle.

"There's always some people who will go out of their way to see what buttons they can push and get away with, but I just have to ignore it. That's the best way - use some other move that fools them and makes them shut up."

Eagles teammate Colby Loetz, also a junior, said she is good at the psychological game.

"She knows exactly how to handle the situation, and she doesn't get intimidated very easily," he said. "She doesn't let anyone get in her head. If anything, she gets in their heads."

The Eagles were used to girls playing on the junior varsity and have always accepted her, but she quickly earned their respect.

"The first couple days of practice, we weren't expecting it because she was a girl, but she was playing very aggressive. She wasn't taking any stuff from anyone," Loetz said. "We quickly realized that she wasn't just some girl coming out to get an athletic credit. She was really into the sport."

Last spring, McIntosh quit club swimming to concentrate on water polo, which she plans to play in college. She joined the Naval Academy Aquatics Club and worked out three or four days a week for 2 1/2 hours during the summer. She played for NAAC's 16-and-under team at the national tournament.

"She is pretty solid, a strong athlete and quite fast," said NAAC coach Mladen Stanicic, "and those are the assets that she's learning to utilize to her best advantage. One of the things she needs to continue to work on is ball-handling. For someone who did not play that long, she's doing quite well."

Six years of competitive swimming, especially as a freestyle sprinter, gave McIntosh a strong foundation. She won the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland 50-yard freestyle championship twice. Last spring, she also won the 100 free.

Water polo first caught McIntosh's eye at Gilman, where she swam for the Mariners' club team. After a year on the McDonogh JV, she became the first girl on the varsity in more than a decade when she moved up last fall.

"I really just like to play, because I like the people I get to play with. With swimming it was individual - either you did it or you didn't do it, but with the team, you have other people around you to help accomplish things. It's not all on yourself," said McIntosh, adding that this year's Eagles team is a particularly tight-knit group.

Whether swimming or playing water polo, the Stevenson resident doesn't like to take too much time off.

When she was 12, she spent six summer weeks in Jakarta, Indonesia, with her parents. The first thing she did was look for a pool.

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