USA Water Polo Recognizes 2017 National Award Winners

by SwimSwam 0

March 11th, 2018 Water Polo

Press Release courtesy USA Water Polo

USA Water Polo is proud to announce the winners of the 2017 National Awards, honoring their excellent achievements. Established in 2010, the annual awards have each been named in honor of a person or persons who have made an extraordinary contribution to the sport of water polo. Winners were chosen through a zone nomination process and then reviewed by a national selection panel. See below for a complete list of winners and their accomplishments. The 2017 National Awards will be presented on May 19 during the USA Water Polo Gala in Del Mar, CA. More information on the event will be available in the coming weeks.

Congratulations to all of our honorees!

USA Water Polo Awards for 2017:

Monte Nitzkowski Distinguished Men’s Coaching Award (Elite): Adam Wright, Bruin Water Polo Club/UCLA – A three-time Olympian and 2008 silver medalist, Wright has had tremendous success as a coach with the UCLA Men’s Water Polo Team. In December the Bruins won the third NCAA title of Wright’s tenure with a 7-5 win over USC. The championship also marked the third NCAA crown in the last four years for the Bruins. Wright has amassed over 200 wins in his time at UCLA and was also recently named Head Coach of the UCLA Women’s Water Polo Team. He is currently in his first season leading that program.

Sandy Nitta Distinguished Women’s Coaching Award (Elite): John Tanner, Stanford WPF/Stanford University – Now in his 21st season leading the Stanford University women’s water polo team, John Tanner has established the Cardinal as the most dominant program in the women’s game today. A Stanford grad, Tanner has led Stanford to six NCAA championships, including the 2017 crown in a one goal win over UCLA in Indianapolis. Perhaps more impressive has been the consistency. Stanford has reached the NCAA championship match every year since 2010 winning five titles in that span. They have also made the NCAA tournament in every year it has existed. He was named ACWPC Coach of the Year in 2017.

Bill Barnett Distinguished Men’s Coaching Award (Scholastic): Matt Swanson, SHAQ/Sir Francis Drake HS – Matt Swanson led Sir Francis Drake High School in California to their first ever CIF-NCS Division 1 title in 2017 when they defeated Campolindo 12-10 in overtime. It was the first Division 1 title from any program from Marin County and was capped by a NorCal Division 1 title. 2017 also saw the 14th overall and third straight MCAL title for the Drake squad. A former standout and two-time NCAA champion at UCLA, Swanson is also a founder and longtime coach of Sleepy Hollow Aquatics (SHAQ). The exploits of Drake High School’s 2017 season were chronicled in the recently released book “Miracle at Sleepy Hollow.”

Doc Hunkler Distinguished Women’s Coaching Award (Scholastic): Scott Hinman, Irvine Kahuna Water Polo/Irvine High School – The late Scott Hinman had an impact on the water polo and swim community that won’t soon be forgotten. A water polo player at UC Santa Barbara and a member of the Santa Barbara Masters club, Hinman embarked on a coaching career in the 1970s that would see him coach at the club, collegiate and high school level while playing a pivotal role in the early days of the USA Water Polo Women’s National Team. He later arrived at Irvine High School taking on swimming and water polo, coaching the likes of Olympic gold medal winning swimmer Amanda Beard. An advocate for the growth of girl’s high school water polo he helped spur the first ever CIF-Southern Section championship. A fixture at the William Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine, CA, Hinman was a key piece of hosting a variety of major events at the facility.

Ted Newland Distinguished Men’s Coaching Award (Developmental): Brian Anderson, Vanguard Aquatics – A veteran coach with experience at the club, high school, collegiate and national team levels, Brian Anderson has helped build Vanguard Aquatics of Southern California into one of the top boy’s water polo programs in the United States. Anderson led the 10U Vanguard boys to gold at the 2014 Junior Olympics and followed that up with 12U crowns in 2016 and 2017. He also remains involved in the Olympic Development Program and has served as co-director of the USA Water Polo Holiday Camp in Colorado Springs, CO for the last three years.

Brent Bohlender Distinguished Women’s Coaching Award (Developmental): Alexis Courtney, Olympus Aquatics – Alexis Courtney has helped bolster the coaching ranks of the Utah water polo scene with her efforts at Olympic Aquatics. In 2017 Courtney took the Olympic 14U girl’s team to Junior Olympics for the first time and they impressed. Seeded in the high 40s the team won silver in the Gold Division. It was a promising start for a program and coach that have eyes on continued success in the future.

Bret Bernard Distinguished Referee Award (Elite): Danielle Dabbaghian, Pacific Southwest Zone – Danielle Dabbaghian began her career as a referee in the mid-90s as a way to earn extra money during her playing days. Since then she has risen to become of the top officials in the United States. A veteran of multiple USA Water Polo Junior Olympics and National Championship events, Dabbaghian made history in 2017 becoming the first woman to ever referee an NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championship. She had previously refereed seven NCAA Women’s Championships including the 2015 final where she joined Amber Drury in becoming the first female duo to referee an NCAA final. No stranger to the international scene, she has been a FINA referee since 2013 and most recently whistled the 2017 FINA Women’s Junior World Championship tournament in Greece.

Tom Hermstad Distinguished Referee Award (Scholastic): Joshua Kratz, Northeast Zone – A former standout water polo player at Johns Hopkins University, Joshua Kratz is one of the top young officials on the East Coast. A familiar face at all major CWPA men’s and women’s competition including the conference championships, Kratz was a member of the officiating crew at the 2016 and 2017 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championships. On USA Water Polo’s UANA list, Kratz will also officiate international competitions featuring National Teams from the Americas.

Aaron Chaney Distinguished Referee Award (Developmental): David Brown, Southern Pacific Zone – A former high school and college water polo player, David Brown began refereeing in 2011. Since then he has officiated a variety of water polo competitions including multiple Junior Olympics plus the Rock-tober PCA 12 & Under Classic, Fisher Cup, Masters National Championships, and most recently the 2018 Dare To Dream 10 & Under Festival. Brown started his first year of junior college referee work in 2017 and whistled his first CIF final in 2018. One of his favorite memories was officiating an intrasquad scrimmage featuring the USA Women’s National Team.

Barbara Kalbus Distinguished Volunteer Award: Kurt Predmore, Saint Andrew’s Aquatics/Southeast Zone – Kurt Predmore has a long history with aquatics and water polo going back to his time as a competitor in both high school and college in Georgia and Florida. Predmore launched the water polo program at Lake Worth High School (FL) in 1998 and went on to win three county championships and three district titles. He later moved to Saint Andrew’s to take over the boy’s water polo program winning the 2010 and 2011 Florida High School State Championships. A volunteer coach with the Florida State University club team, Predmore has also been a mainstay with the Scots Water Polo program winning zone championships and competing in multiple events including Junior Olympics. A multi-tasker, Predmore is also involved in the Olympic Development Program serving as Southeast Zone Head Coach for the last five years and is leader in water polo governance in his area as USA Water Polo’s Southeast Zone Chair.

Andy Burke/George Ratkovic Zone Service Award: Miguel Figueras, Midwest Zone – Miguel Figueras has made a big impact in his home area of St. Louis and the Midwest Zone in general. Figueras has spearheaded a variety of initiatives including helping to organize and increase participation in the Olympic Development Program with the ODP Identification Tournament. He’s worked closely with the Missouri Water Polo Board to expand play opportunities for athletes in the area and is an advocate for the growth of the collegiate game within Missouri and Illinois. In addition to all his sport administration work, Figueras remains an active coach most recently serving on the staff of the Midwest Zone at the recent ODP Boy’s National Championship as well as De Smet Jesuit High School Head Coach.

Bryan Weaver Male Master of the Year Award: Chick McIllroy, H20 Oldies 70+ – Chick McIllroy’s water polo career was already an impressive one before he ever took part in Masters water polo. A two-time Olympian representing Team USA in 1960 and 1964, McIllroy continues to compete, now at age 79. McIllroy was the oldest person to compete at the USA Water Polo Masters National Championship in 2017 and the second oldest to take part in the FINA World Masters Championship last summer in Hungary. A part of the first USA Water Polo National Championship event in 1988, McIllroy stepped away from masters competition not long after turning 70 but was lured back to the game he loves as a player-coach. He is a considered a pioneer in masters water polo, opening up the sport for athletes of all ages.

Bryan Weaver Female Master of the Year Award: Alyssa Turza, Lyons Swim & Water Polo – Alyssa Turza had a standout collegiate career at Iona College helping the Gaels to their first ever NCAA tournament appearance. Winning top newcomer honors from the MAAC in her freshman year, Turza would reach the NCAA tournament three times during her time in New Rochelle, NY. Afterwards, she had a strong desire to keep playing and took her game to Europe. Competing professionally in France, Spain and Portugal for three years Turza returned home to the Chicago area to take part in Masters water polo. After competing on a men’s team, she helped launch the Lyons women’s water polo team and they started off strong. The team took home fourth place in the 20+ division at the 2017 Masters National Championships and most recently earned second place at the 2018 Austin Spin Lob Classic.

Master’s Club of the Year: Santa Barbara Masters, Coastal California Zone – Founded in 1989 by Sean Foley, the Santa Barbara Masters roster features many athletes that competed at UC Santa Barbara including those that were part of the 1979 NCAA Championship. Since the beginning of the USA Water Polo Masters National Championships, the Santa Barbara Masters club has won 28 championships and maintains a 90% victory rate during their 29-year history. At one point in the 1990s, the club went six straight years without suffering a loss on American soil. The domestic success has spread to the international scene where the club has won eight world championships including seven golds at FINA World Masters competition. Their success in multiple age groups led to rule changes on the number of teams athletes could compete with. Most recently, the team won gold in the 55+ and silver in the 60+ divisions at the FINA World Masters competition in Budapest, Hungary in 2017.

USA Water Polo Men’s Chairman’s Cup: Vanguard Aquatics – Vanguard put together a stellar 2017 in boy’s water polo contending for medals in all major championships. Among the highlights, Vanguard won gold in the 18U and 12U divisions at the 2017 Junior Olympics and added silver in 14u division. They followed that up with a gold medal at the 2017 Champions Cup in Bloomington, IN. While not part of the Chairman’s Cup standings, the club continues to show a strong development pipeline winning gold most recently in the Dreamer Division of the 2018 Dare To Dream 10 & Under Festival.

USA Water Polo Women’s & Overall Chairman’s Cup: SOCAL Water Polo Foundation – Long considered one of the top clubs in the USA Water Polo system, SOCAL claims top honors for the women’s chairman’s cup and overall chairman’s cup showing the competitive balance in their club. In the women’s competition SOCAL highlights included silver in the 18U division and bronze in the 12U division at the 2017 Junior Olympics. That was followed by gold at the 2017 Champions Cup in Bloomington, IN. In the men’s competition SOCAL won gold in the 14U division at the 2017 Junior Olympics and bronze at the 2017 Champions Cup. This is the third straight year the club has won both the women’s and overall chairman’s cup.

Background on Award Namesakes:
Monte Nitzkowski is synonymous with men’s water polo in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s serving as head coach of Men’s Olympic Team in 1972, 1980, and 1984, leading Team USA to a bronze medal in 1972 and a silver medal in 1984. Nitzkowski also served as an assistant coach with the 1968 and 2000 Men’s Olympic Team. Sandy Nitta is a pioneer for women’s water polo. An Olympic swimmer as a teenager, Nitta segued to water polo and held the post as head coach of the Women’s National Team during large parts of the 80s and 90s—leading Team USA to bronze medals at the 1986 and 1991 World Championships. She was also instrumental in the creation of Commerce Aquatics, a groundbreaking program.

Bill Barnett, an outstanding high school coach at Newport Harbor High School, with 10 CIF boys championships and five girls championships, initiated and coached the first USA Men’s Junior National Team, then picked up where Nitzkowski left off in the 1980s, guiding the men’s program to a silver medal at the 1988 Olympic Games and a gold medal at the 1991 World Cup. Meanwhile “Doc” Hunkler, three-times named National Collegiate Coach of the Year, was a visionary for women’s water polo who fought to have a true national women’s collegiate championship and helped guide the programs at Slippery Rock University to unprecedented heights spanning three decades, including ten top-three finishes and a national women’s collegiate championship in 1995. Hunkler also holds the distinction as the only coach to win both a men’s and women’s Olympic Festival Gold Medal.

Few have groomed more men for Olympic competition than Ted Newland. Entering the coaching scene in the late 1960s Newland turned the University of California-Irvine into a tenacious competitor, earning three NCAA titles as he coached well into the new millennium. Called by some the “godfather” of high school water polo in Northern California, Brent Bohlender’s Women’s Junior National Teams captured two bronze medals from 1984 to 1999; Bohlender amassed over 1,000 career victories on the scholastic circuit in his time at Johansen High School. Lastly, on the club circuit, Bohlender’s Modesto-Stanislaus club won 18 National Championships over 34 years.

Bret Bernard, Tom Hermstad, and Aaron Chaney took US officiating to unparalleled heights during their time in the whites. As a past president of USA Water Polo, Bernard also whistled the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games and was the preeminent collegiate official for many years. Hermstad was a fixture at several Olympic Games whistling the 1972, 1976, 1984, and 1988 Olympic Games in addition to four World Championships and has worked tirelessly on behalf of water polo officials, helping to form the USA Water Polo National Referee Committee. Last but not least, Chaney capped an outstanding officiating career serving as the United States referee at the most recent Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 as well as 2004 in Athens.

Long-time manager of the Men’s National Team and holder of various offices since the incorporation of USA Water Polo, Barbara Kalbus gave back to the sport for decades, providing critical history for the USA Water Polo program and overseeing the official scoring table at various competitions in addition to numerous other roles. Current Masters Committee Chair Bryan Weaver works tirelessly for more playing opportunities while also piloting the boy’s team at Brentwood High School.

Andy Burke and George Ratkovic fittingly serve as the namesake for the Zone Service Award; few have represented regional water polo with more dedication and compassion. Ratkovic, stalwart of Southern California and longtime Southern Pacific Zone chair oversaw unprecedented growth in his zone. Burke, a beacon of Northern California’s famed Olympic Club, has remained active in USA Water Polo Premier League and the National Tryout Series; he also served as the team manager at the 1964 Olympic Games.

About USA Water Polo
USA Water Polo, Inc., is the national governing body for water polo in America, overseeing our United States Olympic program as well as 20 different championship events annually, such as Junior Olympics and Masters National Championships. With more than 45,000 members, USAWP also is the sanctioning authority for more than 500 member clubs and more than 400 tournaments nationwide. USAWP is committed to the development of the sport throughout the U.S., fostering grass-roots expansion while providing a national system of affiliated clubs, certified coaches, and officials. For more information, visit

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