Interview with St. Louis University High School (MO) Boys’ Varsity Coach Paul Baudendistel

View the Twitter account for the water polo team at St. Louis University High (SLUH) in Missouri and you’ll get a quick education in success: 15 state championships and an overall winning percentage of .750, for example. On April 14 SLUH fell to Oak Park, Il powerhouse Fenwick by a single goal in the semifinals of the DeSmet (MO) Tournament. But in March defeated current Illinois number one Lyons en route to winning the York Tournament, placing the Jr. Billikens squarely among the very best in the Midwest. Coach Paul Baudendistel gave us some time to talk about his remarkable program as Missouri District championships approach.

Missouri Districts are coming up soon. What are your expectations for your squad this year?
Our goal every season is to be the best team we can be.  We try to focus on that rather than wins and losses, which is admittedly a challenge for adolescent boys.  I don’t expect us to win, but I am hopeful that we will play up to our ability.

Is Parkway West the team you’re most concerned about?
Parkway West is a fine team, well-coached, and deserving of their #2 seed, but we can’t be concerned about them yet.  We have to beat other teams to make it to the finals, teams that are capable of ending our season.

SLUH has had such unique success in Missouri the past decade and more. Would you consider any of your Missouri opponents your strongest rival, or maybe a team like Chicago’s Fenwick?
From 1986 through 2007, SLUH won 12 state championships, Mary Institute – Country Day School, 10. During 14 of those years, SLUH and MICDS met in the finals.  Switching to the spring season has diminished their program and our rivalry a bit, but we still share mutual respect. We have been playing Chicago teams since only 2007, and we never face them in playoff games, so there is more gratitude for the competition than animosity.

The DeSmet tournament included teams from Illinois and Florida in 2012. It seems that this tournament could become THE destination for the best boys’ teams in the Spring. If so, do you welcome expanding the field to non-Missouri teams or prefer to keep it more local?
The DeSmet Invitational is impressive. This year’s field included Fenwick from Chicago, Belen Jesuit from Miami, and the top four teams from Missouri. Strake Jesuit from Houston had to cancel but hopes to attend next year. The venue, the St. Peter’s Rec Plex, is the best in St. Louis, and DeSmet coach Miguel Figueras knows how to run a tournament. The quality seems to improve every year, and I’m sure Miguel welcomes interest from any Varsity program in the nation.

Do you have any plans to travel outside of Missouri in 2013?
Our school limits us to one overnight trip to Chicago. We hope to return to York, where this spring we competed against Lyons and Loyola, currently the first and third ranked teams in Illinois, and were fortunate to beat each by one goal. Travel allows our team to grow together in ways that playing in familiar places against familiar teams does not allow.

Share with our readers the outline of your playing/coaching career?
I played at SLUH from 1986 through 1989 and am proud to say that I was a member of our first undefeated Varsity team.  I played club for Daisy Water Polo under Don Casey, who is still the dean of area coaches. In college, I played for the club team at the University of Missouri – Rolla and became the coach by default the last two years.  I returned to SLUH in 1994 and assisted Missouri Water Polo Hall of Fame member Charlie Busenhart until taking over the program in 2002.  In 1998, I founded Jungle Cat Water Polo, which has grown to become the largest high school club in St. Louis.