Huntington Beach, Calif. – January 16, 2012 – USA Water Polo's Annual Awards dinner took place this past January 14 at the LAX Crowne Plaza in Los Angeles, California in conjunction with the USA Water Polo Assembly. 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.
USA Water Polo Awards for 2011:
Monte Nitzkowski Distinguished Men's Coaching Award (Elite): Luis Nicolao, Princeton University – In his 14th season at the helm of the Princeton University Men's Water Polo Team, Luis Nicolao led his squad to an Eastern Championship and a berth to the 2011 NCAA Championships. The Eastern title was the second in the last three years and was followed up by a third place finish at the NCAA Championships where Princeton topped UC-San Diego. With over 500 career victories Nicolao also leads the Princeton University Women's Team, winners of 18 games in 2011.
Sandy Nitta Distinguished Women's Coaching Award (Elite): John Tanner, Stanford University – At the start of his 14th season on the sidelines for the Stanford Cardinal, John Tanner will be hard-pressed to top 2011. The Cardinal posted a 28-1 record including a perfect 7-0 in MPSF play en route to winning the 2011 NCAA National Championship. Backed by Cutino Award Winner Annika Dries, Tanner piloted the group to a 9-5 win over California in the Championship Final. Winners of the Stanford Invitational in February, Stanford was also a perfect 10-0 in true road games and ended the year ranked first in the collegiate water polo top 20 varsity poll.
Bill Barnett Distinguished Men's Coaching Award (Scholastic): Brian Kreutzkamp, Stanford Water Polo Foundation– Brian Kreutzkamp is a busy man in the Northern California water polo community. He serves as the Director of Aquatics and Boys' Water Polo Coach at Sacred Heart and serves as Head Coach of the Stanford Water Polo Club's 18U Boys Team. On the high school level Kreutzkamp led Sacred Heart to yet another CCS Division 2 Championship in 2011, meanwhile on the club scene the 18U Stanford Boys toppled Regency to claim the SwimOutlet.com Junior Olympics Platinum Division Gold Medal.
Doc Hunkler Distinguished Women's Coaching Award (Scholastic): Natalie Benson, Huntington Beach Water Polo Club and ODP – Natalie Benson, formerly Golda, has parlayed a playing career that saw two Olympic Medals into a coaching career on that has seen her continue to flourish in the game of water polo. This past summer Benson's 18 and Under girls defeated Santa Barbara to take the Platinum flight Gold Medal at the SwimOutlet.com Junior Olympics. From 19th place in 2007 to champions in 2011, Benson has helped grow the program at the 18s level on down with the club taking Gold in the 18s Gold division and Bronze in the 16s Gold division at the Junior Olympics.
Ted Newland Distinguished Men's Coaching Award (Developmental): Doug Peabody and Dan Way, San Diego Shores – Doug Peabody and Dan Way, two names synonymous with San Diego water polo. Also, two names synonymous with success as was witnessed by the second straight victory for San Diego Shores at the TURBO Champions Cup. Essential pieces to the overall success of the club the two also helped Shores to a Bronze Medal for the 14U Girls at the 2011 SwimOutlet.com Junior Olympics and fourth place finishes for the 14U and 18U Boys and 16U Girls. Peabody, former Head Coach of the Men's Junior National Team and current Bishop's School Boys and Girls Head Coach, he has won 17 combined CIF San Diego Section titles. Way recently took on the Head Coach position at Steele Canyon High School in Spring Valley, California.
Brent Bohlender Distinguished Women's Coaching Award (Developmental): Manu Ghaffarifar, Rocky Mountain Neptunes – Manu Ghaffarifar has been an integral part in the growth of water polo in the Denver, Colorado area. Founder of the Rocky Mountains Neptune club he assisted in hosting the first ever Rock-tober 12 & Under Classic where his club had three teams entered. That came after a year earlier not having enough athletes to field one team to participate. That type of rapid growth continues to spread in Colorado where Ghaffarifar is also involved with the Olympic Development Program.
Bret Bernard Distinguished Referee Award (Elite): Amber Drury – Amber Drury has risen to the elite level of water polo official in less than a decade following time as a collegiate head coach along with a 10 year run on the Women's National Team. Called on to ref the 2010 FINA World Cup, she followed that up in 2011 with the prestigious honor of whistling the Gold Medal match at the 2011 FINA Women's Junior World Championships. Outside of international play she is one of the top collegiate officials in the game today reffing several high level NCAA matches. Most recently Drury was called upon to help lead a female referee initiative within USA Water Polo.
Tom Hermstad Distinguished Referee Award (Scholastic): Darren Spiritosanto - A water polo player growing up Darren Spiritosanto has transitioned his passion for the sport from in the pool to the sidelines as an official in his fifth year. Darren has whistled medal games at Junior Olympics as well as the 2010 and 2011 CIF San Joaquin Division 1 Section Championship games. He also had the opportunity to whistle the championship game at the North/South challenge this past fall. Always a student of the game, his love for the sport knows no bounds and he continues to learn and excel through the great opportunities he is given.
Aaron Chaney Distinguished Referee Award (Developmental): Rachel McCracken – Just in her second year as a referee Rachel McCracken has quickly made strides as one of the up and coming officials in age group water polo. A former collegiate player at UC-Santa Cruz, McCracken transitioned to officiating where she has been called on to whistle the last two girls Gold Medal matches at the TURBO Champions Cup in 2010 and 2011. McCracken also officiated the 2011 SwimOutlet.com Junior Olympics and has plans to officiate in 2012 both domestically and abroad.
Bryan Weaver Male Master of the Year Award: Robert Nealy – Bob Nealy began playing water polo in 1959 at Newport Harbor High School and after a collegiate career at Orange Coast College and UC-Irvine he stepped away from the game in 1971. To the benefit of Masters' water polo he returned in 1998 to assemble a team for the World Masters in Portland, Oregon. Nealy's team won the 45+ age division that year and he has traveled the world playing water polo ever since. Diagnosed with a treatable but incurable form of lymphoma, Nealy continues to be a driving force in Masters water polo competing in National and World Championship. He cites water polo in giving him a psychological advantage in battling his illness, still being able to do what he loves--play water polo. Nealy is scheduled to compete in the 2012 World Championships in Italy.
Bryan Weaver Female Master of the Year Award: Maureen O'Toole – One of the pioneers in women's water polo, Maureen O'Toole has excelled at nearly every facet of the sport between playing and coaching. A longtime member of the Women's National Team she returned from retirement to participate in the first Olympic Games for women's water polo, winning a Silver Medal in 2000. She started her water polo career playing with boys at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California before the advent of women's teams. Named MVP of the Women's National Team on 15 occasions and USA Water Polo Female Athlete of the Year five times, O'Toole has constantly pursued the next frontier of excellence in women's water polo. Now retired from the National Team she still competes in Masters water polo as a coach and player for the SODA Moms and coaches both club and collegiately with Diablo Water Polo and the University of California.
Barbara Kalbus Distinguished Volunteer Award: George Fenton - A driving force in the development of water polo in North Texas, George Fenton has been a member of the Dallas Water Polo Club for 20+ years and is the current President. In the last few years, George was integral in transitioning the club from a local sports club to a state and nationally recognized non-profit organization. In January 2009 George led the Dallas Water Polo Club into youth water polo with amazing results going from 75 athletes in the summer of 2009 and two teams at the Junior Olympics to 300+ athletes in the summer of 2011 (11 teams at NJO's). In addition, the Dallas Water Polo Club provided resources, coaching, equipment, and structure to the North Texas Region of Texas High School Water Polo. Their efforts directly related to a growth in high school water polo teams from 3 in 2008 to 25 plus in the spring of 2011.
Burke/Ratkovic Zone Service Award: Manny Gonzalez, Coastal California Zone - Manny Gonzalez is the Zone Chair for the Coastal California Zone and despite being a relative newcomer among zone chairs, he has set a high standard for communication and organization among his zone. A water polo parent who has seen two children go on to play collegiately, Gonzaelz helped form the Waves water polo club some ten years ago before moving on to serve as president of LA Water Polo. From there he became involved in zone governance first serving as Vice Chair and now Zone Chair. He has developed an informational website for the zone and continues to pursue the goals of growth and development for all levels, ages, and genders of water polo.
Lifetime Service Award: Julian Szmidt, Vintage High School/Napa Valley Water Polo - The Northern California and Napa Valley water polo community experienced a great loss this year with the passing of Julian Szmidt. The Head Coach of the Vintage High School girls water polo team and Executive Director of the Napa Valley Water Polo Club, Szmidt was a key piece to water polo in Napa. A water polo coach since 1975 he spurred Vintage High School to qualify for the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section tournament every year since 2001. Founder of the Monticello Aquatic Club Seals Swim Team he coached the Central California Youth Girls All-Star Team every year from 2004-2008. A government teacher at Vintage High School, Szmidt was also a member of the Vintage High School swim team staff, serving as Assistant Coach. He is survived by his three children and one grandchild.
Lifetime Service Award: David Perry, Fenwick High School - The Chicago water polo scene lost a pillar of it's community in 2011 with the passing of David Perry. A legend in the high school coaching scene, Perry coached water polo for 32 years, 24 of them at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois. In his time there Perry piled up a 711-70-1 record that included nine state titles, eight of those consecutively, the most recent coming in May of 2011. His total career coaching numbers included 793 victories against 143 losses and two ties. Perry also lent his time to USA Water Polo serving as Zone Chair of the Midwest Zone. Perry is survived by his wife and two children who are both water polo coaches.
Masters Club of the Year: The Olympic Club – A club rich with tradition, The Olympic Club remains a force to be reckon with at the Masters level. In 2011 the Masters National Championships were held in Northern California and The O Club took advantage of the event in its own backyard. The club won three Gold Medals and one Silver in the Men's competition as the 20+, 30+, and 45+ all took Gold with the 50+ grabbing Silver. A rapidly expanding Women's contingent among the Masters set saw the Olympic Club pick up Gold in the 30+ division and Silver in the 20+ division. An outlet for some of the top current National Team athletes, The Olympic Club once again advanced to the Gold Medal match of the Fisher Cup where the group brought home the Silver Medal. The key group that began the Masters movement at The Olympic in the early 1990s still plays together today after competing in several events both internationally and stateside and is already planning on competing in the next FINA World Masters slated for Italy.
USA Water Polo Chairman's Cup: SOCAL Water Polo – 2011 was another great year for the SOCAL club as they once again claimed the Chairman's Cup. The club was in medal contention in just about every National Championship they competed in and had no shortage of first place finishes. The SOCAL girls brought home the Gold for the third straight year at the TURBO Champions Cup while the 21U Girls and 12U Boys both won Gold in the Platinum Division of the SwimOutlet.com Junior Olympics. Add to the medal haul Silver from the 14U and 16U girls at Junior Olympics, Bronze from the 18U Girls, and 14U and 16U boys. Fourth place finishes for the boys at the TURBO Champions Cup and the girls at Women's US Open of Water Polo showed the club's depth and consistency.
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 four 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 Championships. With more than 35,000 members, USAWP is also the sanctioning authority for 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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