Five Questions for Jamey Wright of UC Davis Women’s Water Polo

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UC Davis Women's Water Polo Head Coach Jamey Wright. Photo Courtesy: Wayne Tilcock

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

In a coaching tenure that has spanned more than three decades—and 435 wins—Jamey Wright has established himself as one of the giants of U.S.  water polo. Now in his 35th year as the only head coach UC Davis women’s water polo has ever known, Wright is not only a graduate of the school, but his wife, Nancy and children Michael and Hailey all played at UC Davis; youngest child Cameron is a member of the class of 2021 at the University of California, where he plays polo for the Golden Bears.

A 2010 inductee to the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame, Wright has succeed at every level. As a player and swimmer for the Aggies, Wright won All-Far Western Conference honors in water polo in 1977 and 1978. His senior year, he was a team captain and a 1980 All-American in swimming.

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Now working on his next 400 wins—on March 11, 2016, Wright earned one of the preeminent milestones in NCAA varsity polo—the native of Northern California has steered his squad to an impressive 16-7 so far in 2018.

Swimming World caught up with Coach Wright as he prepares his team for a critical match this Saturday against Big West rival Hawai’i in Honolulu.

– You came to UC Davis in 1977 and never left! How much have things changed with Aggie water polo since you first stepped foot on campus?

I transferred to UC Davis in 1977 as a junior having attending College of San Mateo and playing water polo for Rich Donner for two years.  But having been here for over 40 years, I have seen dramatic changes in the campus, in our ICA department and specifically Women’s Water Polo here at Davis. Our Women’s Water Polo program went from a club sports program started in the early 70’s, to an emerging NCAA sport coming on as fully varsity in the 1996-97 academic year. At that time, we were Division II and in the Western Water Polo Association. In 2003-4 the department began transitioning to Division I, finalized in ’06-’07. Our women’s program, along with many teams in our department joined the Big West Conference following our 2008 season. So, a lot of changes!

– It’s hard not to be dazzled by your 2010 induction to the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame. What does that honor mean to you? After such a remarkable accomplishment, what keeps you coming back for more water polo?

Well the HOF was a pretty amazing thing for me and my family, but as most coaches will attest to, the better your players, the smarter you look. I have been blessed with great players over the decades, both when we were collegiate club and since we have been varsity. The HOF honor was more about their ability than mine. Getting to work with fantastic student-athletes, being supported by a great department and collaborating with fellow coaches Kandace Waldthaler and Yurema Sabio all make coaching here a true dream come true and something I look forward to every day.

– What’s impressive is that you have a wife and two children who also played polo at UC Davis. That’s an amazing family connection; what does this mean for you and your devotion to the program? What’s the most memorable family moment that you might share?

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Photo Courtesy: WayneTilcock

We have 3 children (all pretty much grown up), 25, 23, and 18, but water polo for us has definitely been a family affair as (at different times) I coached all four. Watching our oldest son Michael have a tremendous career at UC Davis, getting to coach our daughter Hailey at UC Davis and watching Cameron begin his college career at Cal this past fall have all been beyond words. Getting to watch my wife play at World Championships in Perth/Fremantle was certainly way up on the list, but if I pick a favorite, I am in big trouble.

– The UC Davis women haven’t made it to NCAAs in a while but your 2018 team looks like they have enough talent to challenge for a Big West title. What will it take for the Aggies to make it to the national championship tournament?

This year’s team has a great mix of senior leadership, with a deep underclassmen presence, so I believe we are as well positioned as anyone, but certainly time will tell. The Big West conference is stacked with talent everywhere and everyone is gunning for that top spot and a trip to NCAA’s. It is a cliché, but when we play as a team, we can compete with anyone.

– Polo in America keeps evolving, with an influx of international players and coaches who have greatly influenced the game. What would you say are the most significant changes to women’s NCAA varsity polo the past few years?

Certainly, the influx of talented foreign players has been a big factor in women’s collegiate water polo. I would quickly add that the phenomenal job high school, community college and club coaches are doing in the US is, perhaps, even more of a factor. The depth of talent out there from which to recruit has never been better. That great depth helps all collegiate coaches in the US, including me. Those coaches getting it done at the 14/16/18&U level year in and year out get little credit, but they are the true bed rock of water polo in the US! Thanks to all of them.

2 comments

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Dear reader:

      I assume “ace” is a compliment for Coach Wright, whose record is nothing short of remarkable! I had no idea until I did a conference preview just how impressive Coach Wright’s achievements at UC Davis are – and I was VERY pleased with his responses in our “Five Questions” series.

      Your correspondent