Adam Wright to Lead UCLA Men’s and Women’s Water Polo Teams

Adam Wright and the UCLA Men's Water Polo celebrating their 2014 NCAA title win over USC. Photo Courtesy: Charlie Neuman

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Correspondent

Earlier this week, the UCLA Athletics Department announced that Adam Wright, current head coach for the Bruin’s men’s water polo program, will also assume coaching responsibility for the UCLA women’s program. The selection puts Wright, a Bruin alum who also starred for the U.S. Men’s National Team, in charge of two of the most prestigious water polo programs in the country.

UCLA Director of Athletics Dan Guerrero moved quickly fill the position vacated last month when Brandon Brooks stepped down after eight seasons makes Wright—who coached the UCLA men’s water polo team to back-to-back NCAA Championships in 2014 and 2015—one of the few coaches in America coaching both men and women at the varsity level. In the NCAA Division I water polo coaching community, only Jovan Vavic, head coach for the University of Southern California’s men’s and women’s programs, has comparable responsibilities.

In a statement released Thursday, Guerrero spoke glowingly of Wright and his success in the sport.

“UCLA Water Polo could not be in better hands,” said Guerrero. “Adam’s winning record as the men’s coach speaks for itself, but just as impressive is the culture he is able to create through his exceptional leadership abilities, as well as his talent for helping student-athletes develop into well-rounded individuals. I fully expect both programs to thrive, individually and together, under Adam’s oversight.”

Wright was understandably excited about the expanded coaching opportunities at his alma mater. In addition to his titles as a head coach, the forty-year old helped bring back-to-back NCAA championships to Westwood during his junior and senior years (1999, 2000).

“I am extremely honored to serve as the head coach for both UCLA men’s and women’s water polo teams,” Wright said in the UCLA’s Athletic Department’s statement. “It is an incredible opportunity to coach the most storied program in women’s water polo. The foundation is already in place for both teams, and I am looking forward to this new challenge.”

Last season, Wright’s men’s team had an NCAA-record 57-match winning streak snapped by USC. The nation’s top ranked team for much of the season, UCLA was beaten in the semifinals of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament by eventual champs Cal.

The Bruin’s women’s team finished last season on a sour note with an 8-7 loss to archrival Stanford in the finals of the 2017 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Tournament. Brooks’ veteran squad—there were four 5th-year seniors on the team—went into the match as the country’s top team, only to fall to the Cardinal in the NCAA title match for the third time in the last four season.

Graduating seniors Rachel Fattal and Alys Williams—currently with the U.S. women’s team competing in the 2017 FINA World Championships—will be missed next season as well as graduates Kodi Hill and Alexa Tielmann. But the Bruin talent reservoir is hardly depleted. Maddie Musselman—also in Budapest with Team USA—is arguably the most exciting young player in American women’s water polo. Musselman will return for her sophomore year in 2018, as will Bronte Halligan, currently playing for the Australian team competing at FINA Worlds.

Prior to his tenure as UCLA men’s head coach, Wright was a four-year letter winner at UCLA from 1997-2000. He totaled 128 goals in his four seasons and was a two-time All-American. Following his collegiate career, he served as a key member on the USA National Team, participating in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, helping lead Team USA to its highest-ever Olympic finish,  a silver medal in 2008 at the Beijing Games.

One challenge for the accomplished player and coach is the incredible record of success at UCLA, as typified by John Wooden. The “Wizard of Westwood” won an unprecedented 10 NCAA men’s basketball championships from 1963-1975—including seven in a row—and is universally acknowledged as the greatest college basketball coach in history. Until May of this year, the Bruins held the record for NCAA championships at 113, until tied ironically by Stanford, a result of the Cardinal’s win over UCLA in the women’s water polo title match.

Wright is now the third coach in UCLA water polo history to oversee both the men’s and women’s teams simultaneously. The other two – Guy Baker and Adam Krikorian – are both in the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame. The expectations are high but Wright’s success at UCLA—including an overall men’s record of 206-33 (.862) and an Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) mark of 50-10 (.833)—suggests that he is well equipped to lead both the Bruins men’s and women’s programs to additional championship hardware.

2 Comments

2 comments

  1. avatar

    In addition to Adam Wright at UCLA and Jovan Vavic at USC, Ted Minnis also leads both Harvard’s men and women’s water polo teams (with 125 victories on the men’s side and 111 wins on the women’s side).

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Dear Steven: touche! Yes, I should have mentioned Coach Minnis at Harvard, Coach Mercado at Brown and Coach Nicolao at Princeton, who all oversee both men’s and women’s programs. My mistake; I was attempting to emphasize that among the top programs in California, only Coach Vavic at USC is in a situation similar to Coach Wright.

      Now I’ll have to fight for entry to Northeast Water Polo Conference matches!

      With thanks,

      M. Randazzo

Author: Michael Randazzo

avatar
Michael Randazzo is a freelance contributor at Swimming World focusing on water polo. He covers polo all over the United States for SW and other publications, including the Collegiate Water Polo Association, Skip Shot, The New York Times, Total Water Polo, Water Polo Planet and others. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children and roots for St. Francis Brooklyn polo.

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