When Alyssa Diacono took the head men’s and women’s water polo job at Mount St. Mary’s in March 2020, she had no inkling that a global pandemic was about to halt all intercollegiate athletic competition in America less than two weeks later.
Undeterred, the former standout for Carin Crawford at San Diego State did what she does best: dig in and get to work.[POD: Mt. St. Mary’s HC Alyssa Diacono, Canada’s Jessica Gaudreault, and La Salle Men Cut]
The results in a year and a half have been nothing short of spectacular. Even though the 2020 fall men’s season did not take place until early in 2021, Diacono was able to assemble a competitive men’s team that not only got in the water in February and March, but went 5-4 against a variety of East Coast programs—including 3-2 in the competitive Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference (MAWPC)—a remarkable result for any program, let alone one launched less than a year earlier.
The Orange County native, who spent two seasons at Mercyhurst in Erie, Pennsylvania as Laker Head Coach Curtis Robinette’s top assistant, had to quickly pivot after the final men’s match last March. Her women’s program started its first-ever season of competition exactly one year after Diacono was announced as head coach. The results were not as robust as for the Mount men—an 0-15 mark, including 0-6 in conference play—but her roster runs 18 deep with athletes from all the water polo talent reservoirs, including Australia, Canada, Texas and Southern California.
Now in her second season leading the Mount, Total Waterpolo caught up with Diacona prior to her first match this weekend against Princeton at the Navy Invitational in Annapolis, Maryland.
– This is the second season for Mount St. Mary’s men’s polo. What challenges have you / your athletic department had to overcome to get to this point?
The biggest challenge was just getting through the first season, having to play both seasons back-to-back with limited roster spots and recruiting abilities. We were proud of the efforts of both teams and were fortunate to see the men finish third in the MAWPC West. This season is about getting our first full season with full roster under our belt and establishing our program for the long-term.
– How much has the COVID-19 layoff affected your planning for the fall 2021 season?
The Mount has worked hard with risk reduction measures (e.g. masks, social distancing, vaccination drives), allowing for a near seamless transition to fall play. We were able to get all student-athletes back to campus, including international players, with minimal issues. Per NCAA rules, our seniors Marko Kruska and Eli Thalos are allowed to return for an extra year of competition if they choose to stay.
– How will you measure success this season? What does your program need to accomplish to sustain itself in the unpredictable world of collegiate athletic budgets?
We will measure success based on the goals we set for ourselves as a team and our continuous growth with each weekend of games. Mount St. Mary’s kept maintaining budgets in spite of the pandemic and usual challenges, and ensured no staff member experienced furloughs or layoffs, so we expect to remain in good shape.
– The majority of your roster is freshmen or sophomores; what can you expect from young athletes in either their first or second year of NCAA varsity play?
Even though we are young, the expectation is to compete at the highest level. I expect there to be mistakes and from there we will continue to grow and get better. We retained over 90 percent of our scoring output from our inaugural year, along with our leading scorer and assist giver.
– It’s hard to predict how a season will go but are there specific athletes you believe will be impact performers this season? Please name some of them / describe what might be expected from them in 2021.
Each player on our roster will make an impact whether it shows on the stat sheet or not. We return our All-American Jason O’Donnell, All-Conference Team members Thalos and Kruska, and more than half our inaugural roster. In addition, we’ve added a strong incoming class, with many members in contention for playing time.