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November 29, 2018

Gameplay in the UTL has been described by players as “controlled chaos.” Despite its rough nature, players say they take pride in maintaining a safe environment around the sport.
Photo courtesy of Colton Tisch

With roots in Marine special forces training, the UTL offers a new sport option for Toreros

Anderson Haigler/Sports Editor/The USD Vista


Club sports at the college level offer a wide variety of options for students. Organizations range from club baseball and softball, to basketball and even lacrosse. The Underwater Torpedo League (UTL), however, offers a complete departure from the traditional intercollegiate athletic landscape. Rooted in games developed in U.S. Marine special forces training, the UTL resembles a cross between water polo and rugby.

Teams of five, donning only a swimsuit and goggles, face off and attempt to move a small torpedo that is not unlike a child’s pool toy into the opposing team’s net at the bottom of the pool to score points. Any movement with the torpedo must occur while the player is underwater, and perhaps more importantly, any contact in an attempt to steal the torpedo while underwater is legal. Despite the inherently rough nature of the sport, the UTL prides itself on being inclusive of players of all skill and experience levels.

Prime Hall, founder of the UTL and current coach of the University of San Diego team,  explained the sport in his own words.

“It’s played at the bottom of the deep end, five on five, with a slightly negatively buoyant torpedo that can glide up to 15 feet underwater,” Hall said. “The object of our game is to get that into the opposing team’s net, and the two teams battle it out.”

Hall, a Marine Special Operations veteran, created the game with a colleague during his time as a Marine Water Survival Instructor while stationed in San Diego.

“I trained Marines on their annual swim qualifications,” Hall said. “I ended up training thousands and thousands of Marines through my pool. That’s where we started playing a variation of it, myself and my co-founder. We also started doing these different aquatic fitness workouts to get ready to go on special operations, and we’ve kinda just been building on that ever since.”

At USD, this formula of unique gameplay and emphasis on community values has resulted in a team that is young, but on the rise as they make their way through their first year of competition at the college level. This year, both male and female USD students have been competing in the sport on a team organized by the HERO club, an on-campus organization focused on raising awareness for student veterans.  Junior Nathan Smith, a USD player, spoke about the team’s composition.

“It’s about half ROTC and half people who are non-military affiliated who just like to swim, or have friends on the team,” Smith said.

 As the UTL’s first, and currently only college team, USD has spent the last season competing against other non-collegiate teams, many of which are composed of individuals with a military background. 

“On the other teams — at least everyone on the San Clemente and Oceanside teams currently serves, or is a veteran,” Smith said. “A lot of them are ‘tatted up’, a lot of them are in special forces too, so they’re pretty gnarly guys.”

The UTL is physical by nature. A wide variety of contact is expected between players, and Smith spoke about the oft-rough aspects of the game.

“There’s definitely been times where I’ve been kicked in the face, like scratched or cut, someone got a black eye one time, busted lips,” Smith said. “It can get kind of intense if you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time. I think it’s fun because it’s kind of like wrestling, but it’s not high-impact like football or rugby where you can tear an ACL or something. It’s pretty controlled — I guess controlled chaos would be the best way to describe it.”

Still, Smith emphasized the safety measures that he and the other members of the team have in place to maintain a high level of safety.

“It’s a really safe operation,” Smith said. “I know some people can get kinda worried about people pushing themselves too hard, and getting hurt in the water, but we always have at least two or three CPR-certified guys playing. Prime also taught us —  part of our training was how to do water rescues like if someone’s drowning or if someone passed out underwater. Being around Prime and those other guys, I feel incredibly safe — I would trust them to save me if I needed to.”

Despite an intimidating initial level of competition, Smith said that USD’s team has held their own in their games so far. 

“When we played them, I was actually pretty surprised with how well we did,” Smith said. “I think we have a unique group at USD where we’re all very competitive with each other. We’ve really evolved on our own, and developed new strategies, and been surprisingly aggressive. We crushed Oceanside and San Clemente our first time out. We’re trying to stay modest, but also realize that we can compete with these people, and we do have a real chance to do well, so that’s exciting.”

Hall affirmed Smith’s assessment of his team’s performance this year.

“(USD students) are top performers, they have a high sense of urgency,” Hall said. “They’re just doers, they’re the ones you want on your team for sure. The level at which the students were performing was the reason we wanted to come to USD.”

Hall’s background in the military aligns well with the students, as well as the ethos of the HERO club at USD. Many students in the club have either already served in the military, or plan on doing so after graduation. For Hall, there are parallels between the sport and what he learned in his time in the service. 

“I definitely see the positive aspects of being in a team,” Hall said. “Setting team goals, and then everybody working together to meet those goals, and then coming up with ideas from the bottom up to meet those goals, to where the entire team is engaged. A lot of those similarities are there, which is great to see.”

With USD’s UTL team being the first of its kind, Hall and the rest of the league’s aim is expansion.

“What we would like to see is essentially different levels of UTL play, all the way from kids, to the Olympics,” Hall said. 

Smith said that he would encourage anybody who is interested in the UTL to come out to a game or a practice.

“It’s a safe, fun, really welcoming environment,” Smith said. “And I would highly encourage anyone that thinks about being interested to give it a try.”

USD’s next UTL game is Saturday, May 5 at the San Clemente Aquatics Center, where they will participate in Aquabowl II, a championship of the top teams in the league.


original article: http://uofsdmedia.com/usd-splashes-in-utl-debut/