Athletics News

USA Water Polo Announces 2016 National Award Winners; Congratulations To All!


SOCAL Water Polo was recognized with two National Awards
April 27, 2017

Huntington Beach, Calif. - April 27 - USA Water Polo is proud to announce the winners of the 2016 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 2016 National Awards will be presented on July 26 in between Session 1 and 2 of the 2017 Junior Olympics. 

Congratulations to all of our honorees!

USA Water Polo Awards for 2016:

Monte Nitzkowski Distinguished Men's Coaching Award (Elite): Ted Minnis, Harvard University Men's Water Polo - 2016 marked the best season in the history of Harvard men's water polo as they won their first ever conference championship (NWPC) earning an NCAA Tournament berth. The team then went on to defeat Bucknell and UC-Davis to reach the final four in Berkeley, CA last December. The team won over 20 games for the third straight season. 

Sandy Nitta Distinguished Women's Coaching Award (Elite): Brian Chuckie Roth, Santa Barbara City College/San Marcos HS - Roth has led Santa Barbara City College to three WSC Championships and a CCCAA runner-up finish in 2016. For the last four years he has also guided the San Marcos HS where he has led his team deep into the playoffs in the last two years and winning multiple league crowns. No stranger to the club team he has been long involved in the Santa Barbara water polo age group scene winning three Junior Olympic gold medals. 

Bill Barnett Distinguished Men's Coaching Award (Scholastic): Jack Bowen, Menlo School

Doc Hunkler Distinguished Women's Coaching Award (Scholastic): Steve Carrera, Orange Lutheran HS - A veteran water polo coach with stops in college, high school and club, Carrera had a banner 2016 winning consecutive CIF-Southern Section Division 1 titles. It started early in the year when his girl's team won their championship. He followed it last November with a boy's title.  

Ted Newland Distinguished Men's Coaching Award (Developmental): Dave Schiffner, ODP Hawaii - Schiffner has been a longtime coach in the Olympic Development Program and was a coach at the 2016 ODP Holiday Camp. An advocate of water polo growth he is focused on the development of water polo as a coach in the state of Hawaii. 

Brent Bohlender Distinguished Women's Coaching Award (Developmental): Chris Cullen, Denton-Guyer HS Water Polo, Thunder Water Polo - Over 26 years as a water polo and swim coach in the state of Texas, Chris Cullen has been a key piece of water polo growth in the Lone Star State. In addition to coaching at the high school level, Cullen has also been a coach with the Thunder Water Polo Club for eight years piloting the team to a variety of competitions. Cullen is a longtime ODP coach. 

Bret Bernard Distinguished Referee Award (Elite): Joseph Peila, Mountain Zone - Joe has achieved a level of distinguished service as a Referee for USA Water Polo and countless other domestic competitions in the United States.  A veteran of many NCAA and National Domestic Championships, Joe was recently selected to represent the USA as the Referee with Team at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He also officiated at the 2017 NCAA Women's Water Polo Championship in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

Tom Hermstad Distinguished Referee Award (Scholastic): Peter Sophabmixay, Southern Pacific Zone - For years now, Peter has demonstrated a unique passion and dedication to our sport.  While Juggling his coaching and academic endeavors, Peter has also found the time and energy to become one of the best referees in the country and has recently earned the opportunity to whistle at the very top levels of competition domestically and is also starting to make a name for himself on the international scene.  Regardless of the level of success that Peter has enjoyed, he continues to make himself available for and takes advantage of just about every professional development opportunity that comes his way.  

Aaron Chaney Distinguished Referee Award (Developmental): Leonardo Aguilu, Southwest Zone - Relatively new on the officiating front. Leo’s love for the game and desire to be the best that he can be has propelled him to the a level of recognition on the domestic scene that has led to him being selected to officiate at numerous National Championship Events including National Junior Olympics and the world famous Rocktober Classic!  Leo continues to show the aptitude and attitude that will surely lead to a fantastic level of success as Referee for USA Water Polo. 

Barbara Kalbus Distinguished Volunteer Award: Luisa Cerda, Midwest Zone

Burke/Ratkovic Zone Service Award: Mark Cousineau, Southern Pacific Zone

Bryan Weaver Male Master of the Year Award: Arseni Grokhovski, Southwest Zone - A high school player in Texas and then a college water polo player at Slippery Rock, Gokhovski has stayed involved in the game as a Masters athlete. He's also stayed in the game as the Head Coach for the University of Texas at Austin Men's Club Water Polo Team. That led to playing for the team and earning All-Tournament honors in 2014 and 2015. 

Bryan Weaver Female Master of the Year Award: Debbie Cavanaugh, Southeast Zone - A longtime water polo coach, swimmer and water polo player, Cavanaugh has stayed in the water as a Masters athlete and been highly successful. Cavanaugh was selected as a Masters National Championship First-Team All-American selection eight straight years. She had been out of the sport for 30 years before getting back in the pool to help form the Fighting Flamingoes, now a mainstay at Masters Nationals. The Flamingoes routinely find themselves in the mix for medals every year. 

Master's Club of the Year: Clayton Water Polo Club, Midwest Zone - The Clayton Water Polo Club based in Missouri is one of the longest running water polo clubs in the United States with a history dating back to the 1960s. A regular competitor at the USA Water Polo Masters National Championship their 40+ squad claimed fifth place at the 2016 Masters Nationals. The club is a strong representative of the Midwest and provides playing opportunities for masters athletes in the Missouri area. 

USA Water Polo Men's Chairman's Cup: Stanford Water Polo Foundation

USA Water Polo Women's & Overall Chairman's Cup: SOCAL Water Polo Foundation


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 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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USA Water Polo - 2124 Main Street, Suite 240 Huntington Beach, CA 92648 - 714.500.5445. - www.usawaterpolo.org
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