WATERPOLO: Adam Wright, Marcelo Leonardi Named 2015 USA Elite Coaches of the Year

Huntington Beach, Calif. – April 8, 2015 – USA Water Polo is proud to announce the winners of the 2015 USAWP Annual Awards, honoring excellence in 2014. As 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. 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 2014. The 2015 Annual Awards dinner is set for May 30 at the Hilton Costa Mesa in Costa Mesa, California in conjunction with the USA Water Polo Hall Of Fame Induction.

Tickets for the Hall of Fame Induction and National Awards Dinner are on sale now starting at $150 with a VIP ticket including parking, reception drinks, 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 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 SplashballTM 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 2015 class of the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame will be announced later this week.

USA Water Polo Awards for 2014:

Monte Nitzkowski Distinguished Men’s Coaching Award (Elite): Adam Wright, UCLA – After a 10 year drought, the UCLA Men’s Water Polo Team are once again NCAA Champions, thanks in large part to Head Coach Adam Wright. Wright, a three-time Olympian and 2008 Olympic Silver Medalist in his playing days with the National Team, guided his alma mater to the 2014 NCAA crown topping USC 9-8. Wright was named ACWPC Division 1 Coach of the Year after leading the Bruins to a 29-3 mark and perfect 8-0 record in conference play. Later this year he will lead the Bruins as the United States representative for men’s water polo at the upcoming World University Games in Gwangju City, South Korea.

Sandy Nitta Distinguished Women’s Coaching Award (Elite): Marcelo Leonardi, USA Women’s National Team & Cal State Northridge– 2014 was a busy year for Marcelo Leonardi. The longtime Head Coach of the Cal State Northridge Women’s Water Polo Team led the Matadors to a top 10 ranking and the championship match of the Big West Tournament, falling just short of an NCA tournament berth. Following the season he would be named the new head coach of women’s water polo at the University of Michigan. The summer of 2014 may have held Leonardi’s biggest success as he guided the USA Women’s National Team to gold at the FINA Youth World Championship in Madrid, Spain. The team turned in a perfect record of 6-0 en route to the first Youth World Championship in USA Water Polo history.

Bill Barnett Distinguished Men’s Coaching Award (Scholastic): Brett Ormsby, Cathedral Catholic HS – In 2013 the Cathedral Catholic Boy’s water polo team had the honor of halting Mater Dei’s 105 game winning streak. In 2014, Head Coach Brett Ormsby’s squad added a three-peat to their resume as Cathedral Catholic topped Bishop’s in the CIF-San Diego Section Open Division title. The longtime Del Mar Water Polo Club Coach and 2004 Olympian, Ormsby has also played a pivotal role in the Men’s National Team pipeline as a coach at various age levels.

Doc Hunkler Distinguished Women’s Coaching Award (Scholastic): Bill Barnett, Newport Harbor HS – 49 years, that was the magic number for legendary Head Coach Bill Barnett who retired following the 2015 girl’s water polo high school season in Southern California. “Coach B” as he was called, amassed 15 CIF Championships (10 boys, 5 girls) in his time at Newport Harbor and added to that two appearances as the Head Coach of the Men’s Olympic Team, winning silver in 1988. His exploits are so legendary, he already has a USA Water Polo annual award named in his honor. Barnett was competitive to the end, his Newport Harbor HS girl’s water polo team advanced all the way to the semi-finals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 Championship before falling to eventual runner-up Foothill.

Ted Newland Distinguished Men’s Coaching Award (Developmental): Clarke Weatherspoon, Stanford Water Polo Club – At the helm of Stanford’s 14U boy’s program, Weatherspoon has had a recent run of excellence. In the fall of 2013, he capped of a zone championship victory with a bronze medal at the TYR Champions Cup. With some success achieved, Weatherspoon, who guides not just the athletes competing in each game but some 60 athletes in the 14u program, focused on development in 2014. In the Pacific Zone Winter League, Weatherspoon had his squad play up a division which set the stage for a top three finish in the Kap7 Tournament, a gold medal at the San Diego County Cup, and a bronze medal at the Junior Olympics. It all culminated with a gold medal at the 2014 TYR Champions Cup in Texas. Outside of the pool Weatherspoon is a dean and history teacher in San Francisco and started the City Leadership Corps bringing meditation to low income African-American and Latino communities.

Brent Bohlender Distinguished Women’s Coaching Award (Developmental): Maura Moore, Columbus Water Polo – A veteran of the Ohio water polo scene as a player at both the high school and collegiate club level, Moore is honored for her coaching exploits. Loaded with experience coaching both the Ohio State University club water polo squad and several area high schools, Moore now heads up the Columbus Water Polo Club, which she founded in 2012. The club has allowed for water polo growth in the area and established a high school league for athletes without a school program. In addition, the club offers clinic opportunities for a variety of athletes at different age levels. Moore is also a longtime ODP Coach, and currently serves as a coach in the newly created Great Lakes Zone.

Bret Bernard Distinguished Referee Award (Elite): Amber Drury – After an extremely successful career as a player on the Senior National Team and many years as an equally successful coach at the collegiate level, leading the University of Michigan to their first ever NCAA Championship appearance, Amber shifted her focus to officiating and has become one of the top referees not only in the United States, but in the world as well. She is the veteran of many USA Water Polo domestic championships and several NCAA Championship appearances. Amber has also been tabbed by FINA to whistle at several championship events, and has been appointed to several gold medal games in top level international competition. Amber not only continues to officiate at an elite level of competition domestically and internationally, but she is also completely dedicated to the education and development of referees in the United States and freely gives of her time and resources in that effort.

Tom Hermstad Distinguished Referee Award (Scholastic): Courtney Bird – As a player, sometimes coach, and dedicated referee, Courtney has truly demonstrated the passion and dedication that has propelled her to a promising career with the whistle. As she continues her path to a teaching career, Courtney manages to balance a busy academic life and still find the time to pursue her refereeing and stay involved in the game we all love. As of late Bird has whistled such large scale age group events as the Junior Olympics, TYR Champions Cup, and ODP Regional Championships. Giving of her time and resources to participate in any and all opportunities that come her way to don the whites and gain experience as an official has put Courtney on track for a promising future with the whistle.

Aaron Chaney Distinguished Referee Award (Developmental): Connor Roberson – In his relatively brief time on the deck in the whites, Conner has managed to combine an interesting combination of interests and aspirations as he continues to pursue his goal of becoming the very best water polo referee he can. As a promising sushi chef, ask him about his world famous “Ginger Roll”, he has found the time to make himself available for participation in just about every professional development opportunity he can get his hands on, including Holiday Camp, ODP National Championships, and Junior Olympics. Conner’s enthusiasm and dedication to his craft will surely lead to a bright and successful future as he continues to develop as a referee.

Barbara Kalbus Distinguished Volunteer Award: Marvel Shoen– There are few things Marvel Shoen hasn’t done for the sport of water polo, especially for her home state of Washington and the Pacific Northwest. She is honored for her efforts as a volunteer in 2014 but has been lending a helping hand in water polo for the last 25 years. A founding member of the Seattle Otters water polo team, Shoen later coached and refereed to show a positive example of women in roles that at the time were largely held by men. A tournament director for both high school and club action in Washington, Shoen is the head of the Water Polo Referee Association in Washington and a secretary for the Pacific Northwest & Hawaii Zone. A past recipient of the Aaron Chaney Distinguished Referee Award, Shoen stays active with the whistle calling CWPA collegiate events among other competitions.

Burke/Ratkovic Zone Service Award: Ian Davidson, Pacific Southwest Zone – Davidson, who was honored in 2014 for his coaching achievements with the Brent BohlenderAward for girl’s developmental coaching, is recognized in 2015 for service as a Zone Chair of the Pacific Southwest. A longtime coach for San Diego Shores and The Bishop’s School, the girl’s team recently won their fifth straight CIF-San Diego Section crown. At the zone level, Davidson has helped bring stability and organization in addition to expanded referee development. Davidson started a referee development program and a junior referee program as well in San Diego helping increase education and success for those wearing the whites.

Bryan Weaver Male Master of the Year Award: Greg Shanley, Otter Bay WPF – Greg Shanley helped the Otter Bay Water Polo Foundation to a fourth place finish at the 2014 Masters National Championship and for his efforts was tabbed an All-American selection. That is just one footnote in a life filled with a love for water polo. A two-time All-American at the College of the Sequoias and a school record holder in swimming at Fresno State, Shanley is no stranger to aquatics or the game of water polo. Shanley is recognized for his efforts in master’s water polo where he has been a participant for the last decade. In addition to competition in the pool, Shanley has also worn the whites as a water polo official for the better part of 10 years. His contribution to the game was an important one in 2014 and looks to continue in the future.

Bryan Weaver Female Master of the Year Award: Kristine Palle, Riptide Water Polo Club – Kristine Palle has a long history in the sport of water polo from her time as a player and coach to her current role as a CIF-Southern Section Administrator. She is honored this year for her efforts in master’s water polo. As a member of the Riptide Water Polo, last year’s Master’s Club of the Year, Palle medaled in three different divisions (20+, 30+, and 40+) at the 2014 Masters National Championship. In addition, she has been an All-American selection at the 30+ division the last three years. Outside of the pool she continues to have an impact on the game as the newly appointed National Water Polo Rules Committee Chair for the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Master’s Club of the Year: KAOS Water Polo Club – The KAOS Water Polo Club has been a mainstay at the masters level of USA Water Polo for over 10 years entering a variety of teams in tournaments all across the world. At the USA Water Polo Masters National Championship they routinely enter men’s teams at the 30+, 40+, 45+, 50+, 55+ and 60+ age divisions. A regular contender for medals year in and year out, KAOS is also committed to the growth of masters water polo. Every year the KAOS Water Polo Camp is held for athletes 39 and older offering an opportunity for instruction and improvement to 60 competitive water polo athletes. Complete with chalk talks and in water sessions, the camp has proved invaluable to athletes in the masters community. KAOS continues to provide an outlet for athletes wanting to compete at the masters level and shows no signs of slowing down.

USA Water Polo Men’s Chairman’s Cup: Stanford Water Polo Club – The Stanford Water Polo Club is honored for a fantastic year of boy’s club water polo that was highlighted by a gold medal for the 14U squad at the TYR Champions Cup in Texas. Among ten total teams entered at the 2014 Junior Olympics, right in the club’s backyard, the 14U boys earned a bronze medal. The 12U, 16U, and 18U all added to a strong summer by posting top ten finishes at the world’s largest water polo tournament. Strong coaching helped drive the Stanford club in 2014 as noted by the Ted Newland Award, given to Stanford 14U Coach Clarke Weatherspoon.

USA Water Polo Women’s Chairman’s Cup: Santa Barbara Water Polo Club – It was a banner year for the Santa Barbara Water Polo Club women’s division that saw six different teams reach the medal round of various national championships. One of three teams entered in the US Open of Water Polo took home fourth place to kick off the Summer. That set the stage for a dominant showing at the 2014 Junior Olympics where the 12U squad earned gold, flanked by silver medal performances from the 14U and 16U squad along with a bronze medal result from the 10U team. The team continued their excellent run into the fall where the 14U squad grabbed a fourth place finish at the TYR Champions Cup, capping a year to remember.

USA Water Polo Chairman’s Cup: Santa Barbara Water Polo Club – The Santa Barbara Water Polo Club earns overall Chairman’s Cup honors for a successful year of water polo from both their boy’s and girl’s squads. With a combined 15 teams entered at the 2014 Junior Olympics, Santa Barbara saw nine top 20 finishes and a gold medal from the 14U girls. Add to that silver medals from the 14U and 16U girls along with a bronze from the 12U girls and the club was well represented on the podium. Winners of the Women’s Chairman’s Cup, Santa Barbara also reached the medal round in TYR Champions Cup girl’s division. Both the men and the women notched top seven finishes at the US Open of Water Polo showing the true depth of the club through all ages.

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, 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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