By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor
Men’s water polo may now be universally accepted—with some exceptions—as a big man’s game, but Jordan Colina would beg to differ. The Princeton senior has always played bigger than his 5-9 listed height. With 215 goals over a four-year career playing for head coach Luis Nicolao, the San Diego native is now sixth over-all in goals scored for the Tigers.
A champion swimmer from Cathedral Catholic High School, in his senior year Colina captured gold in the in the 50-meter freestyle and silver in the 100-meter freestyle at the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) San Diego Section Championships (Division II). His swim skills have played a part in his success, but it’s family that has been crucial to Colina’s development into one the top players in NCAA varsity men’s water polo. Brother Julian was a three-year starter at Bucknell College under head coach John McBride. Jordan’s father Joe—who despite his height was a member of the University of San Diego men’s basketball team from 1980-81—taught his sons that size doesn’t matter in a sport that is all about effort.
Following Princeton’s 13-9 win over St. Francis Brooklyn that clinched a Northeast Water Polo Conference regular season title for the Tigers, Swimming World sat down with Jordan Colina to speak about playing water polo at one of the country’s most prestigious academic institutions.
Princeton just won the NWPC regular season title—no small feat given the quality of play in the conference. What does this mean for you and your teammates?
It’s huge for team morale. What we’re trying to do is peak at Easterns—that’s when we want to be our best. It’s indicative of how good we are that we are the number one seed going into [the tournament].
But we can’t overlook any other team. St. Francis is a great team. Harvard is a great team. Brown’s a great team. Everyone’s beating everyone. We have to be on top of our game and really focus on ourselves and how we practice and play.
The tournament will definitely show who steps up and plays there best at the right moment.
What did it mean to you and your family to come East to play – and to play for Princeton, a member of the Ivy League?
First of all, Princeton is academically one of the best schools in the nation. That’s what I wanted to prioritize. Water polo came with this.
People overlook the completion [in the East]. I think we’re better than a lot of West Coast teams other than the top four. And we have a great path to NCAAs. Those were the kinds of things I was prioritizing looking at Princeton.
Did you aspire to play for Cal, Stanford, UCLA or USC?
[The Big Four] are fantastic water polo schools and schools in general. The main reason I wanted to come East is my dad. He’s the one who told me that East Coast is where I should be at. If I could get into a Princeton, Harvard—any of the Ivy Leagues—that’s where I should prioritize.
Water polo’s a huge part of my life but academics and moving on with my career is the goal.
What drew you to the water polo program here?
What really made me want to come to Princeton was obviously the coaches. Louie [Nicolao] and Derek [Ellingson, Assistant Coach] are amazing people and smart coaches. And getting a sense of the team I fit really well with it. I knew someone Jamie Kuprenas who’s two years older than me. He told me about the culture and a work / life balance. You get a perfect balance here which is exactly what I wanted.
What are the things that you’re going to remember most about your time in New Jersey?
Honestly, everything. What Princeton instills in you is a work ethic. You go to school all day, you come to practice to be with a team you love to be with—these are your brothers-in-arms. The family that I got from Princeton is really what I’m going to take away from this.
On that note, are you leaning towards staying East or is this an experience you’re going to take back home with you?
What I’m aiming to do is go back west and bring the Eastern love with me.
What about other Colina siblings?
I’m actually the youngest. My brother Julian graduated from Bucknell four years before me and played for Coach McBride. That’s also a reason I was looking at the East Coast. He told me that—especially for water polo—it was a better option for me.
You’re not particularly tall—for a water polo player—but you’ve certainly had a big impact in the pool.
What started it off is my dad. He’s even shorter than me—he’s only about 5-6 and played basketball at University of San Diego. From a young age, he instilled in me to play with a chip on my shoulder and work harder and smarter than everyone else. If you do those things, then size doesn’t matter.
It’s all about how we as a team play. If we’re playing well as a team it opens up a lot of plays for me. And vice-versa.
You’re now number six all-time in scoring for the Tigers. Would you have ever predicted that when you first arrived on campus?
Going into it I was just excited to be playing for Princeton water polo. After a pretty good season my freshman year (50 goals; second on team in steals and assists) I knew if I could maintain that or even get better throughout the years that I could have a good career.
Coming into it I had Drew Hoffenberg (238 goals; #4 all-time goals for Princeton) as someone who I thought I could have a career similar to.
It’s all been great [here at Princeton]. If I could end it with an Easterns championship and NCAA path that would be the best.
You’re not alone in being a West Coast player at an East Coast school—California kids are sprinkled all over the rosters of top Eastern programs.
The East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry is transitioning over. There’s way more West Coast players coming from California to play on the East Coast. And it’s bringing the competition up; as you can see we’re competing with West Coast teams now. I think that’s fantastic.
Is Princeton’s continued presence as a national power making an impact on NCAA varsity polo?
Absolutely. West Coast kids coming into college see us coming from the East, competing with these teams. It shows that we’re no longer underdogs. [Princeton’s] a team you can come to, have a great academic experience, have a balanced life and be competitive in water polo.
Your dad got to every single game you played this season. How is it for him to watch you compete in such a physical sport?
My older brother played so he had already watched all [the competition] and knew how to handle the situation. I don’t think it fazed him too much. He knows that I can handle my own and that I’m not worried about how rowdy he gets in the stands.