Water Polo Award Winners Honored At Hall Of Fame Induction & National Awards Dinner April 5

USA Water Polo’s Annual Awards dinner is set for April 5 at the Hotel Irvine Jamboree Center in Irvine, California in conjunction with the USA Water Polo Hall Of Fame Induction. As established in 2010, the awards have each been named in honor of a person or persons who have made an extraordinary contribution to the sport. 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 in the sport in 2013.

Tickets for the Hall of Fame Induction and National Awards Dinner are on sale now starting at a pre-sale price of $125 with a VIP ticket including parking, a hosted cocktail reception, and priority seating beginning at $250. Full tables and other sponsorship and underwriting opportunities are available which include invitations for ten to the cocktail reception, induction dinner, prominent recognition in the event program, acknowledgement in evenings remarks, entitlement aspect (example: bar, reception) along with gift bags for all attendees and more. Also available this year are tribute pages, a meaningful way to honor our Hall of Fame inductees and National Award recipients. For more information or to purchase tickets click here.

Proceeds from this year’s event will benefit various initiatives of the entire not-for-profit USA Water Polo organization, including growth programs such as Splashball™ for the young and Masters, which enables more athletes to continue playing water polo after high school and college, as well as USA Water Polo Olympic Development programs, and Olympic teams for Rio 2016.

The 2014 class of the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame will be announced later this week.

USA Water Polo Awards for 2013:

Monte Nitzkowski Distinguished Men’s Coaching Award (Elite): Jovan Vavic, USC – Jovan Vavic has set a new level of excellence for a coach in men’s collegiate water polo. Without ignoring his accolades on the women’s side, including a 2013 NCAA National Championship, Vavic has presided over an unprecedented run with his men’s program. In December of 2013, Vavic and the Men of Troy won their NCAA record sixth straight national championship while playing in their ninth straight title match. Named National Coach of the Year 12 times and MPSF Coach of the Year 10 times, in 2013 he also served as interim Head Coach of the USA Men’s Senior National Team, helping the team qualify for the 2013 FINA World Championship.

Sandy Nitta Distinguished Women’s Coaching Award (Elite): Todd Clapper, Arizona State University –This spring marks Todd Clapper’s ninth season at the helm of the Arizona State University women’s water polo team and he’ll have his hands full trying to top 2013. A combined 51-13 over the last two seasons, Clapper and the Sun Devils turned in a program record 26 wins in 2013 en route to a fourth place finish at the MPSF Championship, their best ever. The team picked up two signature victories last season defeating UCLA on March 2 at the Mona Plummer Pool and following that up with a win over California in Berkeley on March 16. Those victories helped Arizona State reach a number three ranking in the nation, the highest ever in program history. A strong recruiter, Clapper saw one of his newest athletes, Izabella Chiappini, recently named Brazilian Player of the Year.

Bill Barnett Distinguished Men’s Coaching Award (Scholastic): Brian Flacks, Harvard Westlake High School – In just three years Brian Flacks has quickly restored the Harvard Westlake program to elite status. After winning a CIF Championship with the girl’s team in his first season, Flacks guided the boy’s team to their first title since 1991. The CIF-Southern Section Division 1 Championship came at the hands of juggernaut and defending champion Mater Dei. Unable to top the Monarchs three previous times during the season, Flacks and the Wolverines came through when it mattered most. Most recently Flacks was named an Assistant Coach for the Men’s Junior National Team.

Doc Hunkler Distinguished Women’s Coaching Award (Scholastic): Ethan Damato, Laguna Beach High School – In the midst of another stellar campaign with the Laguna Beach High School Girl’s Water Polo Team, Ethan Damato is recognized for his achievements in 2013. As a club coach with SET Water Polo, Damato guided the 16U girls to gold at the 2013 Junior Olympics. An important piece of the National Team pipeline, Damato has served as an Olympic Development Coach and most recently as an assistant coach with the Women’s Youth National Team. A two-time CIF Coach of the Year for both the boys and girls team, Damato won a CIF Championship with the girls in 2009. Currently Damato has the Breakers ranked number one in Division one with sights set on the postseason.

Ted Newland Distinguished Men’s Coaching Award (Developmental): Gregg Emde, Mad Dog Water Polo – Gregg Emde got involved as a water polo coach after watching his children thrive in a sport he grew up playing. Since taking on an expanded role in the game he has made a huge impact in the growth of water polo in the St. Louis area. Currently the coach of the Midwest Zone ODP Cadet Team, Emde recently started a new club called Mad Dog Water Polo to help grow the game and served for many years as Head Coach at Marquette High School in the St. Louis area. Emde is a huge part of the water polo scene pitching in as a coach in the last three years as a referee. If there is a big water polo event going on in the area, you can be sure Gregg Emde will be there.

Brent Bohlender Distinguished Women’s Coaching Award (Developmental): Ian Davidson, San Diego Shores – A longtime coach with the San Diego Shores Water Polo Club, Davidson serves as Women’s Program Director and also coaches the 14U girls team for the powerhouse club. Last summer Davidson guided the 14U squad to a Bronze Medal at the 2013 Junior Olympics and followed that up with a top ten finish at the TYR Champions Cup. The squad also took third place at the Pacific Winter Classic and County Cup 2013 along with fourth place at Winterfest 2013. Since 2012 Davidson has also served as the Pacific Southwest Zone Chair, where he has a variety of responsibilities including sanctioning events and increasing playing opportunities for zone members in addition to other governance duties.

Bret Bernard Distinguished Referee Award (Elite): Alan Korsgaden – Alan is one of those referees that has truly risen to the top of his craft through hard work, desire, and a fantastic dedication to the game. After a solid playing and coaching career Alan continued to give to the sport we all love as a referee. He quickly gained respect and recognition for his aptitude and attitude among players, coaches, and fellow referees.  It wasn’t long until Alan began whistling top collegiate and National Championship matches, having recently been selected to officiate at the NCAA Championships this past December at Stanford.  He has participated not only as working referee, but as a key member of the USA Water Polo Referee Association’s delegate and evaluation corps, giving his time and energy as a Head Referee at National Events and as an Instructor Referee, training referees nationwide.

Tom Hermstad Distinguished Referee Award (Scholastic): Arnaldo Perez Jr. – JR, as he is know in the water polo world, has made his mark in the sport as a referee at the local and national level and continues his professional growth and development. He has whistled numerous National Junior Olympic and other domestic National Championship Events and has often been selected to referee the championship matches. He is the veteran of numerous club and high school championships in his native Southeast Zone and is working hard to take advantage of every opportunity to expand his professional experience. With a bright future ahead, Perez shows no signs of slowing down as he climbs the officiating ranks.

Aaron Chaney Distinguished Referee Award (Developmental): Emma Cox – Emma Cox epitomizes what makes a good referee.  A true love and passion for the game and it’s participants, a desire to continue to grow as an official, and a strong sense of the spirit of the game. Although relatively new to the officiating scene, Emma has made the most of her experiences both in her home Mountain Zone and on the national circuit having been selected to referee at ODP Regional Championships among numerous other events. Emma continues to make herself available for any and all opportunities that come her way to continue to grow professionally. She has become a fine example of referee development and has a bright future in the whites.

Barbara Kalbus Distinguished Volunteer Award: Scott Ennis – A driving force in the stability and growth of water polo in the Carolinas along with the Eastern Seaboard, Scott Ennis has done a lot of good, all in the name of water polo. The president of the Triangle Water Polo Club in North Carolina, Ennis has been instrumental in the development of the South Atlantic League, a playing opportunity for masters programs all along the East Coast that crowned their first champion in 2013. In addition to his volunteer efforts in coordinating the league, Ennis also supported the Swim Across America event in Raleigh this year where he helped promote water polo and raise money for charity.

Burke/Ratkovic Zone Service Award: Lori Gentry, Coastal California Zone – When it comes to organizing water polo in Southern California there are few areas where Lori Gentry doesn’t play a pivotal role. A longtime club administrator for the Foothill Club, helping that organization grow to one of the largest in the USA Water Polo system, Gentry now serves as the Zone Chair for the Coastal California Zone. She is nothing short of a first class partner to USA Water Polo and its member clubs in helping to organize playing opportunities for athletes across her zone. A full time professional in the apparel industry, Gentry donates a substantial portion of her free time to water polo and for that the sport in her area is in a better place.

Bryan Weaver Male Master of the Year Award: Doc Hofer, Tri-Valley Water Polo Club – Doc Hofer is not just a veteran masters athlete, but a veteran masters athlete advocate. A member of the USA Water Polo Masters Advisory Committee, Hofer has been instrumental in assisting in the growth of a variety of Masters events including the annual Masters Nationals and a host of other competitions. His monthly masters newsletter, now in its second year sheds light on upcoming playing opportunities for masters athletes while giving kudos to those having recently organized events. Still an active competitor, Hofer helped organize the 65+ exhibition competition at the 2013 Masters Nationals and competed with his Tri-Valley club in the 60+ division.

Bryan Weaver Female Master of the Year Award: Melissa Fernandez, OC Riptide Water Polo Club – In a short time Melissa Fernandez has helped establish the OC Riptide as one of the premier masters water polo clubs in Southern California. In 2013 the OC Riptide club picked up the silver medal in both the Women’s 20+ and 30+ division and Fernandez was tabbed All-American in the 30+ division for her efforts in the water. A former collegiate athlete at UC-Irvine and current head coach of boy’s and girl’s water polo at Ocean View High School in Huntington Beach, California, Fernandez lives water polo. She has helped set the OC Riptide club apart not just from their success at national events but because of their desire to compete. The club takes part in almost every masters tournament available in their area, hardly a surprise for this water polo lifer. Last year Fernandez established the Champions League in her native Southern Pacific Zone, a social playing opportunity for younger masters athletes that also served as a referee development and evaluation platform. The league was just another sign of Fernandez’s dedication to the game.

Master’s Club of the Year:  OC Riptide Water Polo Club – A relatively new club, the OC Riptide have taken the masters scene by storm, entering a squad into almost every conceivable masters event they can get their hands on. The results have been promising. Just this past year the team earned two medals at the 2013 Masters Nationals, picking up  silver in the Women’s 30+ division and bronze in the Women’s 20+. This led to seven athletes earning All-American status and continues positive growth for a club that shows no signs of slowing down.

USA Water Polo Chairman’s Cup: SOCAL Water Polo – 
SOCAL Water Polo earns top honors yet again, winning the Chairman’s Cup for the fifth straight year. SOCAL’s entire program won accolades at the highest levels in both genders. 2013 was a special year for the club as they once again picked up hardware at a variety of events across a host of age groups. The SOCAL girls returned to form at the TYR Champions Cup winning gold while the boys took home the silver medal. At the US Open of Water Polo, the SOCAL women earned a bronze medal as well as fourth place and placed three athletes on the all-tournament team. Last but not least in the world’s largest water polo tournament, the Junior Olympics, SOCAL struck gold with their 16U boys and earned bronze with their 16U girls, both in the Platinum Division. Both teams also earned Junior Olympic All-American status and helped continued a trend five years in the making that finds SOCAL Water Polo Club among the best of the best.

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.

Bernard, Hermstad, and Chaney all 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.

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

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 logo
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 40,000 members, USAWP is also the sanctioning authority for more than 500 Member Clubs and more than 400 tournaments nationwide. USAWP is committed to the development of the sport nationwide. It fosters grass-roots expansion of the sport, providing a national system of affiliated clubs, certified coaches and officials.

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About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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