Athletics News

2016 Olympians & 2015 National Award Winners To Be Honored July 16 In Irvine; Tickets On-Sale Now

A new crop of National Award winners will be honored this July in Irvine, CA
June 2, 2016

Huntington Beach, Calif. - June 2, 2016 - USA Water Polo is proud to announce the winners of the 2015 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 2015 National Awards will be presented on July 16 at the Hilton Irvine/OC Airport in Irvine, California in conjunction with the 2016 Olympic Gala.

Tickets for the Olympic Gala and National Awards Dinner are on sale now starting at $150 with a VIP ticket package to include parking, reception drinks, and priority seating beginning at $300. Table sponsorships and underwriting opportunities are available which include invitations for ten to the VIP reception and dinner, prominent recognition in the event program, acknowledgement in evening remarks, entitlement aspect (example: bar, reception) and more. Also available are tribute pages, a meaningful way to honor our Olympians and National Award recipients. For more information or to purchase tickets click here. Proceeds from this year's event will benefit the not-for-profit USA Water Polo organization and its Olympic Campaign, One Goal. One Dream. Rio! If you are unable to attend but would like to make a contribution to the Olympic campaign, make your gift here.

USA Water Polo Awards for 2015:

Monte Nitzkowski Distinguished Men's Coaching Award (Elite): Daniel Leyson, UC-Davis Men's Water Polo - Daniel Leyson has produced success at every level of water polo. Whether it was as an athlete at USC or on the Men's National Team or a decorated run with the Rose Bowl Water Polo Club there have been no shortage of accomplishments. In his latest venture at UC-Davis, Leyson has helped push the Aggie back into the mix of contending teams in men's college water polo. 2015 marked UC-Davis' best record since 2007 and first top 10 finish since 2011. With signature victories over Top 20 teams such as Pepperdine, Princeton, and Brown, the future is bright in Davis thanks to Leyson. Head Coach of USA NorCal in the 2016 National League, Leyson also enjoys helping develop the next generation of elite water polo players.

Sandy Nitta Distinguished Women's Coaching Award (Elite): Brandon Brooks, UCLA Women's Water Polo - UCLA Women's Water Polo has remained among the elites in women's college water polo thanks to the efforts of Brandon Brooks. In 2015 Brooks once again guided the Bruins to the NCAA Championship match on the heels of an MPSF Tournament Championship. During the regular season the Bruins defeated top ranked teams such as Stanford, USC, and California. Four athletes from that season's team are currently training for the 2016 Olympic Games including Sami Hill, Kodi Hill, Rachel Fattal, and Alys Williams. A 2004 and 2008 Olympian, Brooks once again piloted the Bruins to the NCAA Championship in 2016 where they took home third place.

Bill Barnett Distinguished Men's Coaching Award (Scholastic): Samuel Bailey, Beckman High School Water Polo - Veteran water polo coach and former UCLA water polo player Samuel Bailey has helped turn the water polo program at Beckman High School from expansion team to contender. 2016 marked the third straight year the Beckman HS girl's water polo team qualified for the CIF-Southern Section Championship Tournament. The boy's water polo team has also become a formidable foe and produced their first All-American in 2015 in Evan Kim. For the first time in school history, Beckman will be sending an athlete to compete at the Division 1 level in NCAA Men's Water Polo; the program has previously sent five athletes to compete in Division 1 NCAA Women's Water Polo. Most recently Bailey was named a PCA Double-Goal Coach finalist and the only water polo coach selected west of the Mississippi.

Doc Hunkler Distinguished Women's Coaching Award (Scholastic): Rebecca Godek, ODP & Ann Arbor Skyline HS - Sometimes a photo can say it all. An image of Rebecca Godek mid-flight, about to land with a belly flop into the pool was all you needed to know how Ann Arbor Skyline's boy's water polo season went. The team turned in a 31-5 regular season record and a district championship. The Skyline boys took home their first state title, joining a championship from the girl's program thanks to Godek. She was the first female in the state to guide a boy's program to a title and be named Coach of the Year. A former college player at the University of Michigan and co-founder of the Wolverine Water Polo Club, Godek is an integral part of the Great Lakes Zone as head coach and within the Olympic Development Program dating back to 2009.

Ted Newland Distinguished Men's Coaching Award (Developmental): Tracy Stapleton, ODP Central Zone & Davis HS/Water Polo Club - An important figure in the Davis, CA water polo community, Tracy Stapleton has served in a variety of roles helping to grow the game of water polo and develop some of the area's best athletes. He was ODP Central Zone boy's head coach from 2006-2015 and had previously assisted in other zone related activities prior to ODP. He currently serves as the Davis High School boy's water polo coach where he has piled up 585 victories and 9 CIF crowns not to mention some 50+ High School All-Americans. In age group water polo Stapleton is a longtime coach with the Davis Water Polo Club dating back to 1988. He is currently the club director and head coach of the boys' program. On top of all of that Stapleton has taught social studies at Davis Senior HS for 26 years and has passed his love of water polo onto his two children (Connor and Colby) who both play collegiate water polo.

Brent Bohlender Distinguished Women's Coaching Award (Developmental): Casey Greenawalt, ODP & Riverside Water Polo Club - Just months removed from guiding ML King HS to a CIF-Southern Section Championship in girl's water polo, Greenawalt is recognized for his efforts impacting a variety of water polo athletes. A fixture in the Riverside water polo scene, Greenawalt is a longtime coach and a leader within the club as the technical director and youth boy's coach. He is also heavily involved in the USA Water Polo Olympic Development Program serving as the Southern Pacific Zone girl's head coach and as an assistant coach to the Women's Development National Team. A former high school and collegiate player in Riverside, Greenawalt has also been instrumental in hosting several international events at the Riverside Aquatics Complex.

Bret Bernard Distinguished Referee Award (Elite): Levon Dermendjian, Coastal California Zone - Levon began officiating high school and club water polo matches at 17. Not only has Levon become an excellent official in both the NCAA and USA Water Polo worlds, he has also taken his love for the game above and beyond the normal parameters of officiating to take on a number of development and leadership roles in the sport. He currently serves as the zone head referee for the Coastal California Zone and has also been instrumental in the training and development of referees for both high school and USA Water Polo. Levon has been appointed as an international referee for the United States, representing the USA in a variety of international competitions, most recently the UANA Youth Pan American Games in Jamaica. He has also been selected to whistle a number of top level domestic events including NCAA Conference Championships, USA Water Polo National League and US Open Championships.

Tom Hermstad Distinguished Referee Award (Scholastic): Scott Voltz, Coastal California Zone - Scott began his officiating career as a 15 year old high school player in Rockford, Michigan. He continued to referee throughout a very successful career at Michigan State University as a player and coach. Scott began officiating collegiate matches in the CWPA and has quickly risen through the officiating ranks across the country. His participation in USA Water Polo events increased dramatically when he moved out west a few years ago, and the rest, as they say, is history. Scott's technical skills, his dedication to the game, and his desire for continued development as a referee have afforded him numerous opportunities to don the whites in a variety of top level USA Water Polo and NCAA events including, but certainly not limited to, several USA Water Polo and NCAA domestic national championship events. Scott was recently appointed to USA Water Polo's UANA international referee list which has created even more opportunities for Scott to showcase his skills and continue what will be a very successful run as a referee representing the United States.

Aaron Chaney Distinguished Referee Award (Developmental): Crystal Curran, Southern Pacific Zone - Crystal's immersion into the game began as a player when she was 13. She began her playing career with the Chino Hills Area Water Polo Club and continued through high school and college at CSU San Bernardino. As her collegiate career came to an end, Crystal decided to continue to feed her passion for the game by getting involved as a referee. Her dedication to her craft was immediately evident as Crystal has made herself available for just about every professional development opportunity that has come her way. She has been invited to participate in a number of national events including the US Club Championships, ODP National Championships, the inaugural Dare to Dream Festival, and the National Junior Olympics where she was tabbed to whistle a number of advancement and medal round games.

Barbara Kalbus Distinguished Volunteer Award: Shawn Stringham, Mountain Zone - Shawn Stringham's water polo career began in 1986 when he was the last athlete cut from his high school's baseball team. The high school swim coach encouraged him to try water polo and that decision altered the path of his life. He played water polo throughout high school and immediately began coaching after graduation. In 2009 he began coaching his local club and high school team of twelve players. He currently volunteers his time as the club president and director of water polo and men's head coach of Olympus Aquatics (SkOly) Water Polo. Olympus Aquatics has grown to over 90 water polo athletes under his direction and supports competitive swim and water polo programs for athletes of all ages. His passion is to build athletes and programs that allow the individual and teams to recognize the strength and character they have within them. Working with other area clubs Shawn has started the Utah Foothills Water Polo League that has supported youth and masters divisions throughout the last year. Shawn is serving as president of the Utah High School Water Polo Association through 2018 and is creating momentum to help build on the strong works of other key contributors from Utah Water Polo over many years. Together with his friends and the leaders of Utah Water Polo, Shawn hopes to elevate the athletes and support the programs to compete at a national level. His greatest water polo accomplishment and joy is having 4 of his 5 children currently playing polo on their age group teams and watching his wife Melissa learn to love the game as the best table secretary he has ever seen.

Burke/Ratkovic Zone Service Award: James Staresinic, Northeast Zone - Coming Soon!

Bryan Weaver Male Master of the Year Award: David Sonnen, Pacific Northwest & Hawaii Zone - Born in Portland, Oregon David Sonnen graduated from Western Oregon University and the University of Washington. He began playing water polo when he moved to Seattle in 1993. He learned to play with the Seattle Otters and has been with the team for the past 23 years. A cornerstone of the squad, Sonnen has served on the team's leadership group for over 20 years. He also has participated on the team's Seattle Otters International Open Tournament committee since its inception in 1998 and has had the opportunity to play polo across the country, as well as in Canada and Iceland with the Otters. When he is not in the water, Sonnen is an elementary teacher-librarian for the Edmonds School District, just north of Seattle and has served in leadership roles at the state and national level for school librarian organizations.

Bryan Weaver Female Master of the Year Award: Leigh McGuire, Central Zone - Leigh Shupp-McGuire started playing water polo in the early 80's. In 1999, she was very excited to find an all women's team and masters water polo program in Oakland, CA. which allowed her to continue participating in the sport. Leigh and the Oakland Masters have participated in every masters national event since its inception. Leigh has received All-American honors in the 20's, 30's, and 40's age groups; most years, playing in multiple divisions. Leigh played goalie most of her career and in 2015 she was given the opportunity to play as a field player. This allowed Leigh to see water polo from a different perspective, not just from the goal, but now from the entire field of play. Contributing to the offense, as well as defense was a turning point that gave her a new perspective and a new respect for ALL aspects of water polo.

Master's Club of the Year: Oakland Water Polo Club - Oakland Water Polo is the longest standing female masters team. The club has attended every Nationals since the female divisions started in 2001 in Stockton with only five women's teams entered at the time. The club most recently entered the 2015 Nationals with teams in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s divisions winning a variety of medals. The current 50s team has made a habit of winning gold, taking top honors in nearly every edition of the Masters National Championship they have competed in. The club prides itself on being inclusive, welcoming dozens of women from around the Bay Area with ages ranging from 20 to 65+. Players include former national team members, ex-college players and newcomers to the game. Perhaps the most dominant masters women's water polo team of all time, the club loves to have fun while participating in tournaments and playing their best to win. They cite a unique bond in and out of the pool that is special to all club athletes.

USA Water Polo Men's, Women's & Overall Chairman's Cup: SOCAL Water Polo Foundation - SOCAL Water Polo Foundation Inc. thanks USAWP for the honor of Chairman's Cup award, which is the result of a journey of hard work, a great team of players, sacrificing parent investors, dedicated coaches, tireless administrators, and its guiding Board of Directors.

SOCAL is a 30 year old non-profit club based in Tustin, California. SOCAL is blessed with using Tustin Unified School District pools. SOCAL's student-athletes have received in excess of $40 million in student-athlete scholarships to attend over 40 colleges in its 30 years. Some of SOCAL's student-athletes have competed in the Olympics, won NCAA titles, earned gold in USAWP National Championships and won many high school titles. More importantly, most of SOCAL's student-athletes have become standout citizens in their respective professional careers after water polo. Tustin, SOCAL, and water polo are synonymous around the world.

SOCAL provides scholarships to low income families in Tustin. SOCAL provides for everyone regardless of financial need to participate in its programs through over $10,000 per year in scholarships. SOCAL has donated tens of thousands of dollars back to the local high school programs, pools and the District. Through programs like SOCAL's "Surprise Santa", SOCAL has uplifted the lives of the local Tustin homeless, sick and sheltered.

SOCAL has operated as an "open platform." SOCAL was the first water polo club in the United States to use the club management software called "Club Assistant" (now an industry wide standard) and has consulted numerous other clubs about how to manage their affairs. SOCAL has openly allowed other clubs to copy SOCAL's infrastructure and methods. SOCAL has provided over 50 new Coaches into the ranks of USAWP Coaching at the club, high school, and intercollegiate levels. SOCAL is effective at retaining non-elite athletes because it maintains low player to coach ratios and promotes using sports as a platform for learning life's lessons. SOCAL is an engine of USAWP's growth. SOCAL's players are generally regarded as having excellent fundamentals. Janet Zwirner named SplashBallTM and SOCAL embraced USAWP's thrust into this area. SOCAL now has a robust Master's water polo program. SOCAL is emulated around the country. Former SOCAL players now in their 40's reflect fondly on their days in "Black and Gold" as some of the best times in their lives.

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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