Lathrope To Lead MIT Water Polo; Can He Translate Engineers’ Academic Success to the Pool?

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Bret Lathrope (grey shirt on left) moves into MIT head coach's seat. Photo Courtesy: Louis Walker III

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

One of the more intriguing—and challenging—coaching opportunities in men’s varsity water polo has just been filled. On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Athletic Department announced that it had found a replacement for David Andriole, former Engineers’ head coach who quit last December.

Julie Soriero, MIT Director of Athletics, didn’t have to look very far for a new coach; she hired Bret Lathrope, Andriole’s assistant last year.

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“We are excited to welcome Bret into this new leadership role as our head coach,” Soriero said in a statement released on the MIT athletics website. “Having served as our assistant last year, he has a good understanding of our program, the competitiveness of our water polo conference and our student-athletes. He brings experience and enthusiasm to the position and his impact should be immediate.”

By some measures, the job Lathrope just accepted is the toughest in NCAA polo. MIT is a Division III program—meaning the school does not offer athletic scholarships—and is one of the most difficult colleges in the world to into. According to the MIT website, in 2017 the school received 20,247 applications, and admitted 1,452 freshmen—a meager 7.2% acceptance rate. What distinguishes MIT from other highly selective colleges in America is that the school does not consider “legacy admissions”—that is, giving preference to the children of alumni.

Getting in is one challenge, then there’s difficulty of staying afloat given the exceptionally difficult academics at MIT—which John Benedick, Associate Director of Athletics, addressed in responding to an inquiry.

“MIT is one of the world’s leading institution for science and technology,” Benedick said via email. “As such the academic demands on its students are challenging and rigorous. We are very proud that our water polo athletes are able to balance the academic rigor and athletic challenges in a significant way.”

It was academic achievement—and not wins—that Benedick, who over a 42-year career at MIT has coached men’s and women’s swimming and diving as well as men’s water polo, cited as a criteria of success for Engineer polo.

“The team’s All-America Academic ranking is a universal testament to their ability to achieve high academic and athletic success,” he said.

MIT Pool

Al and Barrie Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center Pool. Photo Courtesy: Alison Bartlett

Success in the classroom does not easily translate to wins in the pool, as former head coach Andriole knows. Now in California, he said in an email that coaching for the Engineers is “one of” college polo’s toughest jobs, citing admissions policies and the impact of academics on student-athletes’ training as crucial to the team’s performance.

Throw in the fact that MIT plays in the Northeast Water Polo Conference, which includes Harvard—back-to-back NCAA qualifiers from the East—Brown, Iona, Princeton and St. Francis Brooklyn, and success has been elusive. The Engineers have gone 8-24 in conference play the last three years, part of an overall record of 33-49 from 2015-2017.

One bright spot in the recent past came in 2015 when Andriole’s team ended more than a decade of dominance by St. Francis with a 14-13 win.

The Engineers new coach certainly has a great deal of experience with success; in his four years playing for UCLA, the Bruins appeared in three NCAA title matches—all loses to arch rival USC. After graduating in 2013, the California native coached with the 680 Water Polo Association and as an assistant coach at UC Davis and at Bucknell University.

The Engineers’ new coach was elated by his first-ever head coaching job in NCAA varsity polo.

“I am excited to begin working with the players to achieve a new level of excellence for our water polo program,” Lathrope said.

Not surprising, his former mentor wished him well in a new, and exacting, adventure.

“Bret knows water polo and has good report with the players,” Andriole said. “MIT is a talented team and I’m sure he’ll continue to grow the program.”

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DIIIer
4 years ago

Note that Benedick was the swim coach for 20+ years