An exciting year for water polo in the United States was 2014 with even more coverage of the sport throughout the US, key signs of growth at the collegiate level, and unprecedented success for American women. The future looks pretty shiny for the year to come. But first, a brief visit with the past and a few important stories from 2014.
San Jose State Introduces First New NCAA D1 Men’s Team Since 1983
The result of years of behind-the-scenes fundraising and organizing by a group of energized Spartan alumni, San Jose State announced in August that it would re-instate its men’s varsity program. Dormant since 1981 the SJSU program had once been highly successful placing second in the 1971 NCAA Championships. The school hired former Stanford head coach Dante Dettamanti as an assistant and announced at the end of the fall that a key member of the alumni group, Bruce Watson, would serve as head coach.
The news roiled the American water polo community, largely resigned to the fact that sponsoring new men’s Division I programs was virtually impossible for financial and equity reasons – none had been created since Iona’s in 1983. The San Jose State decision demonstrated what could become a rough model for doing so: private fundraising and organizing by committed enthusiasts, the rare interscholastic program in need of more varsity male athletics, and plans for a new on-campus pool. The uncommon confluence of events is one not entirely replicable but offers guidance to those who thought that the growth of men’s D1 water polo was complete. The Spartans will begin play in the fall of 2015.
USA Women’s Most Successful (non-Olympic) Year
The championships piled up during perhaps the most successful run of competition ever for the USA Women’s Senior Team. Armed with what has become the deepest pool of talent in the world, and in US history, Adam Krikorian’s squad won three major titles before the fall even began. Their third-ever World Cup title, a win over rivals Australia, followed a Kirishi Cup victory in July and a World League tournament win over Italy in June. Meanwhile, their younger cohorts won the FINA Youth World Championship in August beating neighboring Canada. Boasting the world’s best player in Maggie Steffens the pipeline is also filled with talent both experienced and young, including an enviable array of top-flight goalkeepers. Expectations are as high as ever for the program 19 months before the Rio Olympic Games where the squad will attempt to win consecutive gold medals.
Men of Troy Fall! UCLA Earns First Championship in a Decade
Six consecutive titles were enough for the most successful men’s varsity program in history. UCLA won its first NCAA title in a decade and thwarted USC’s attempt at a seventh championship in a row. The Bruins were simply better in 2014 and capped a highly competitive fall during which four teams earned top rankings throughout the season. Both squads boast young rosters and aim to reproduce past successes in 2015. Long Beach State ended the season playing impressively and looking to make a run at upending the “Big Four.” A deflating overtime loss to Stanford at the MPSF Championships left The Beach outside the championship tournament field but poised for a return to NCAAs in 2015.
Undefeated Harvard-Westlake Tops the Boys’ Ranks
Our choice for best boys’ team in 2013 unsurprisingly is so again in 2014. Harvard-Westlake began the fall season ranked on top and did nothing to hint that it belonged anywhere else. The CIF Southern Section D1 champs finished the season undefeated and challenged only by Mater Dei, whom they beat three times by no more than three goals. For the rest of their opponents it was a hopeless task to overcome the steady defensive pressure, the speed of the counterattack, and the simple brute strength in front of the cage. With much of its prodigous talent returning, a reasonable bet is one that places the champs back in the 2015 title run.
Laguna Beach Girls Break Through
The fractured nature of girls’ prep water polo makes choosing the nation’s best a slightly more difficult prospect, but Laguna Beach tops our list having completed a one-loss season and beating Newport Harbor in their CIF-Southern Section D1 final, 10-7. The Breakers started last winter ranked on top and remained there until the end finishing with their first section championship. Laguna went 30-1 overall including a record-setting 21-game winning streak.
Stanford Women Win Third Title in Five Years
They were largely expected to win and did so nearly completing an undefeated season. One loss to UCLA marred an otherwise perfect season that finished with a championship showdown against the same Bruins. UCLA were ahead 5-2 at halftime in that match after which the Cardinal allowed not a single additional goal pulling away to win its fourth championship overall, 9-5.
Red Flash Water Polo is Coming to Pennsylvania
A late December no-frills announcement that Saint Francis University of Loretto, Pennsylvania was in search of a women’s varsity water polo coach leaves much about the program still to be detailed. But a new Division I women’s program will begin operations beginning in the 2015-16 school year. Its Western Pennsylvania location will leverage the improving state of youth water polo in the Keystone state and neighboring Ohio, both areas of targeted growth in the US. Get your Red Flash gear early.
Lindenwood Brings Club Title to Missouri
One year after losing a chippy title fight to UCLA the men of St. Louis-area Lindenwood University overcame two more Golden State squads to earn the trophy. An 11-10 victory over Cal propelled the Lions in to the finals against upstart San Diego State where the SoCal team was favored by most. Lindenwood and its Iberian-heavy roster easily turned away the Aztecs and pocketed its first open division national championship. The season was an undefeated one for the Lions including six wins over varsity programs.
The New-look USA Men’s Senior National Team
The youth movement arrived in force for the US Men’s National Team, the youngest in the world according to coach Dejan Udovicic. Two 16-year-olds got significant playing time in international competition. Connecticut lefty Thomas Dunstan scored twice against Germany in February’s Volvo Cup. Harvard-Westlake’s Ben Hallock made a vigorous splash at center versus Italy at the end of December in an exhibition match. Athletes from Ohio, Florida, and Dunstan from Connecticut showed an attempt to expand the pool of talent outside the Golden State. Youth did not get in the way of a respectable fourth place finish at the summer’s World Cup in Kazakhstan. The new National League, announced in November, will feature players from Washington, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.