Five Questions for Jocelyn Bernhardt, New Grove City Women’s Water Polo Coach

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Grove City has a new coach—Jocelyn Bernhardt—and an established star in Elizabeth Andrews, 2019 CWPA Division III East Player of the Year. Photo Courtesy: Grove City Athletics

Later today, Jocelyn Bernhardt will be behind the bench as Grove City women’s water polo team opens their 2020 season against Virginia Military Institute at the Washington & Jefferson Invitational in Washington, Pennsylvania.

grove-city-collegeThis match will be new to Bernhardt—it’s her first time leading the Wolverines as a head coach—and also instantly familiar, as from 2012-15, she was a key contributor for a Grove City program that went 45-40 and captured the Collegiate Water Polo Association DIII Championship in 2012.

Bernhardt, who grew up in three hours away from Grove City’s northwestern Pennsylvania location, concluded her Wolverine career by earning the 2015 CWPA Division III Scholar-Athlete of the Year award. As Jocelyn Hinkle—her maiden name—she graduated as the program’s all-time leader with 128 assists, second in Wolverine history with 237 goals and third in steals with 273.

She will look to build upon a promising 2019 season, when former head coach Alyssa Hunt led Grove City to an 11-8 record—their best result since going 18-8 in Bernhardt’s first season as a player—and fifth place in the CWPA DIII Championship. In recognition of that effort, Hunt was named 2019 CWPA Coach of the Year.

[2020 Swimming World Women’s Water Polo Previews: CWPA Varsity Division III]

For the new coach to build up on her predecessor’s success, the Wolverines will need to get continued performance from senior Elizabeth Andrews (64 goals, 66 steals, 2019 CWPA Division III East Player of the Year) and junior Tessa Leatherwood (62 goals, 44 assists). Both earned ACWPC Honorable Mention All-America recognition last season as Grove City went 8-0 in CWPA Women’s Varsity Division III-East play.

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Bernhardt during her playing days. Photo Courtesy: Grove City Athletics

Prior to the start of her season, Bernhardt responded to Swimming World’s questions about her new role with the Wolverines, the challenges of competing for a CWPA DIII title, and the prospects of playing in the new Division III National Collegiate Women’s Water Polo Championship this spring.

– You’re stepping into some pretty big shoes. How will it be to take the reins from Alyssa Hunt, who coached you as a senior?

It’s an honor to be able to take over after Coach Hunt. She was a great coach and I’m thankful I was able to play for her and work alongside her for a season. I hope I can maintain the success that she has had here.

Since I’m familiar with how Coach Hunt taught the game, and most of the team has been under her coaching, I don’t want to change much. My goal is to build off the foundation she’s established. But, I have had four different water polo coaches throughout my water polo career that I can glean from.

– You’ve been recognized as one of the most successful players in Grove City women’s water polo history. How important is it for you to come back to your alma mater and continue a tradition of success?

It is very important to me to continue the program and keep it as one of the top DIII programs. I am thankful to the coaches before me who started the water polo program and maintained it over the years, which gave me the opportunity to play. I really wanted to attend a Christian college AND play water polo, which doesn’t exist anywhere else outside of California. Grove City College was the way for me to have both of those things, and I want to keep that opportunity open for future players.

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Tessa Leatherwood. Photo Courtesy: Grove City Athletics

–  The Wolverines lose three seniors from last season’s team that won the CWPA DIII East title. How will you replace Jillian Breckenridge, Heidi Schmidt and Abby Spicher?

I am excited to see our team play this year. At his point in the season, several of our athletes are still swimming, so I haven’t had a full week with all 13 girls yet. But the freshman that came in are strong players, who come from strong high school programs. They will make an immediate impact this season.

– In the past, Grove City has had success recruiting athletes like you—local high school players with experience who might not get a ton of offers to play outside the Northwestern Pennsylvania region.

Absolutely! Our program gives local players who love the game a great opportunity to play, along with an excellent education. Water polo is rapidly growing, and there are several strong programs that have developed in Pennsylvania. If we continue to pull from these programs, I believe we will continue to see success.

– The big news in women’s DIII water polo is the new national championship. What will it take for the Wolverines to be part of the DIII Collegiate Women’s Water Polo National Championship?

I believe we have the talent on the team this year to make it to the National Championship. It will come down to how badly the girls want it, and how disciplined and focused they are on achieving that goal.

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