2018 USA Water Polo Junior Olympics: Day Four: All Polo is Local

Coach Matt Swanson of SHAQ
SHAQ's Matt Swanson during a 2014 Junior Olympics 14U finals match vs. Vanguard. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

San Jose, CA. Given the scale of the 2018 USA Water Polo Junior Olympics—with hundreds of teams and literally thousands of games—it’s perhaps comforting to scale down the event to the level of a local club and its coach; in this case Matt Swanson and Sleepy Hollow Aquatics—otherwise known as SHAQ.


Launched in 2007 by Swanson, head water polo coach at Sir Francis Drake High School, and Mark Anderson who coached water polo at Drake as well as swimming at Sleepy Hollow Swim Team, SHAQ is a regular attendee at JOs whose resume includes an epic match of Vanguard Water Polo Club in the 2014 14U Platinum title match. This year, the club—based out of San Anselmo, CA—is sending six boys’ and six girls’ teams to JOs.

Swanson, a San Diego native who helped backstop UCLA to back-to-back NCAA titles in 1995-96, spoke with Swimming World after his team’s final meeting with 11 high school graduates who will move on to college competition in the fall, with all of them landing with an NCAA varsity program.

– How did you end up coaching at SHAQ?

I played at UCLA as a goalie under Guy Baker. The nice thing about goalie is— because you’re not always involved in the action—you get to see how the game develops and how it looks from a coach’s perspective. That gave me a good education into the X’s and O’s of the game.

I knew I wanted to teach; I didn’t necessarily know I wanted to coach. After I graduated I got my teaching credentials, and the first job I got was as a coach at a high school in Marin County. I started coaching and fell in love with it. I realized I wasn’t going to end up as a teacher but would be involved with the sport any way possible.


SHAQ’s Emerson Sullivan. Photo Courtesy: Cathryn Hayne

I’ve been at the same high school for 20 years and stared the club a little over 10 years ago, once we realized we needed to be going year-round. We had a new pool built at our high school that made it possible.

Mark and I have been coaching together for 20 years. We’re partners in the endeavor; we see each other every day on the pool deck and we’re best friends. He and I have built the club up together.

– How important is it for your club to show strongly with JOs in SHAQ’s backyard?

There’s five or six Bay Area clubs—Stanford Water Polo included; they have a huge club down here. There’s a couple of clubs in the East Bay; 680, Lamorinda, CC United who are all major powers. So ours are the top five clubs, and we all share the burden of being NorCal representatives and trying to come out on top for our region.

We all push for each other—especially when JOs are down south—meanwhile we beat the crap out of each other [back home]. In the 16U we played Stanford in the 2016 JO final at Stanford, so that was a great experience.

We have a lot of great competition up in the Bay Area. We’re by no means the top club in the Bay Area but we’re able to hand with the other top clubs and we take turns being Number 1.


Sir Francis Drake seniors wearing their college colors. Photo Courtesy: Nate Severin

– You and Coach Anderson have obviously done a great job recruiting top talent from your region.

We just had our last meeting with our seniors. It was a very emotional. We’ve been coaching these kids since… Mark’s taught them all how to swim, they’ve been playing water polo with us since they were nine. After [Wednesday’s] this is the last game they’ll ever play together and they’ve accomplished incredible things together, coming from a small community like we do.

It’s 11 of them and we’ve got three going to Stanford, one gong to UCLA, one going to John’s Hopkins, one going to George Washington, one going to USC, one going to Santa Barbara, one going to UoP and one going to Pepperdine. They’re an incredible group of athletes that have grown up together. I’ve seen them every day for the last eight years… and today we said goodbye to them.

This is a new chapter in all of our lives… this group has accomplished more than we could ever thought possible.

It’s fun to have those groups but it’s sad to see them go.

– Every year JOs (apparently) gets bigger—yet it remains a great platform for learning and an opportunity to see and be seen.

That’s part of the fun—playing teams from Oregon, Greenwich and Utah—it’s really cool to see kids from all over the country. We’re from a small neighborhood just up north of San Francisco, so nobody knows where we’re from.

It’s great to meet all those teams before the tournament. The Viper Pigeons from Houston came and practiced with us before JOs, and a team from St. Louis came out as well. A lot of people playing water polo from all over.

It’s a huge undertaking and I can’t imagine the planning that goes into it as it bounces back and forth between Northern and Southern California. It’s a testament to USA Water Polo and its attention to detail—the referees, all the game sites. Where do you even start something like this with all the pool times and the schedules?

I give USA Water Polo credit for making it go off without a hitch.

Editor’s Note: Swimming World is on the ground all week with stories and quotes from the 2018 USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics. Look for our coverage of the largest youth water polo tournament in the world. If you want to tune into all the action at Stanford’s Avery Aquatics Center, check out FloSwimming’s link to the tournament; for pictures from various JO sites, visit this link for KLC photos.

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