HUNTINGTON BEACH, California, January 23. USA Water Polo's Annual Awards dinner took place this past January 19 at the LAX Crowne Plaza in Los Angeles, California in conjunction with the USA Water Polo Assembly. As established in 2010, the awards have each been named in honor of a person or persons who have made an extraordinary contribution to the sport. Winners were chosen through a zone nomination process and then reviewed by a national selection panel.
Prior to the awards being presented, two members of the USA Water Polo community were honored. U.S. Olympic Women's Water Polo Team Gold Medalist Maggie Steffens (Danville, CA/Stanford/Diablo) was honored for winning FINA Female Water Polo Athlete of the Year. Dale Neuburger of FINA was on hand to introduce Steffens and present her with the honor. Steffens was followed by her Head Coach, Adam Krikorian who was presented with the Order of the Ikkos from the U.S. Olympic Committee. John Crawley of the USOC was on hand to introduce Krikorian. Steffens and her teammate, four-time Olympic Medalist, Brenda Villa (Commerce, CA/Stanford/Olympic Club) presented Krikorian with his medal. The Order of the Ikkos is a medal that honors head coaches who have guided a team to an Olympic Medal.
USA Water Polo Awards for 2012:
Monte Nitzkowski Distinguished Men's Coaching Award (Elite): Alex Rodriguez, Pomona-Pitzer Colleges — 2012 was a banner year for Alex Rodriguez as he guided both the men and women of Pomona-Pitzer to stellar seasons. Rodriguez piloted the women's squad to a SCIAC title and a trip to the NCAA Championship where they were stopped by eventual champion, Stanford. The NCAA berth marked the fourth trip in Rodriguez's tenure. This past fall, success continued during the men's season where the Sagehens went 8-0 in SCIAC play, sharing the conference title while finishing fifth in Western Water Polo action. For his efforts Rodriguez was named Division III Coach of the Year for both men's and women's water polo.
Sandy Nitta Distinguished Women's Coaching Award (Elite): Adam Krikorian, U.S. Olympic Women's Water Polo Team — It does not get much better for a coach in the world of water polo than it did in 2012 for Adam Krikorian. Already with a World Championship, World Cup, and Pan American Games title on his resume since taking over the Women's National Team in 2009, Krikorian added the final missing piece, an Olympic Gold Medal. After coming close in three prior visits to the Olympic Games, 2012 marked the first Olympic Gold for the women's program and capped a run by Krikorian that saw Gold Medals in seven of his first eight FINA Championships. Along with the Olympic Gold, he added his fourth straight gold in the FINA World League Super Final in the summer of 2012.
Bill Barnett Distinguished Men's Coaching Award (Scholastic): Bob Greene, Serra HS/Golden State Aquatics – In his 22nd year as a head coach, Bob Greene showed no signs of slowing in 2012 as he continued an excellent run with the Serra High School Padres. Since taking over the Padres in 2004, Greene has guided the team to the state playoffs the last eight years, reaching the semi-finals four times, and the quarter finals four times. Greene's teams have produced eight All-Americans, and a bevy of collegiate competitors. On the club level Greene founded Burlingame Aquatics in 1999 and then Golden State Aquatics in 2004. An advocate of the true student athlete experience, his clubs have routinely sent teams to the Junior Olympics while also earning Academic All-American honors
Doc Hunkler Distinguished Women's Coaching Award (Scholastic): Sam Bailey, Corona del Mar High School — Since being named Head Coach of the Corona del Mar High School girl's water polo team in 2010, Sam Bailey has been a driving force in making the Sea Queens one of Orange County's elite programs. There was no better evidence than in 2012 when Bailey led CDM to a second place finish at the CIF-SS Division 1 Finals. He followed that up with a California State High School Championship this past summer. His impact on the community has also been felt as he recently launched a girls-only water polo club that has now grown to more than 35 age group athletes. A three-time NCAA Champion in his playing days at UCLA, Bailey spends his spare time leading the service organization, Eco Surf Volunteers.
Ted Newland Distinguished Men's Coaching Award (Developmental): Michael Goldenberg, South Florida Water Polo — Outside of being a highly rated international referee, Michael Goldenberg has been a top coach in the Florida water polo scene for many years and 2012 was no different. As coach for the South Florida Water Polo Club, Goldenberg, along with fellow coaches Jorge Montero and Elina Goldenberg, guided the 14U, 16U and 18U boys to first place at the Sunshine State Games. The 16U boys also took first place at the South Florida International Tournament, the Southeast Zone League Tournament, and ninth place at the SwimOutlet.com Junior Olympics. The 14U and 18U boys also grabbed second in the Southeast Zone League, while scholastically Goldenberg coached the St. Thomas Aquinas boys to a second place mark at the Florida High School State Championships.
Brent Bohlender Distinguished Women's Coaching Award (Developmental): Todd Halvorson, 680 Drivers — Between 2003 and 2007, Todd Halvorson led Monte Vista High School to four North Coast Section titles while also taking on a key role in Northern California's ODP scene. In recent years he has maintained his role in ODP while transitioning to the club scene with the 680 Drivers. Halvorson has guided the 12U and 14U girls of 680 Drivers to top five and top ten finishes at Junior Olympics the last three years. He continued that run of success this past fall when the 14U girls took home bronze at the TURBO Champions Cup. Halvorson was honored in 2006 as USA Water Polo's Volunteer Coach of the Year.
Bret Bernard Distinguished Referee Award (Elite): Steve Rotsart — Fresh off an appearance at the 2012 London Olympic Games as referee representing the USA, Rotsart has brought a wealth of experience and knowledge to the craft which has not only propelled him to top level international referee appointments, but he has also managed to balance his refereeing schedule with a truly amazing dedication to the training, growth, and development of referees in the United States. He has also gained the respect of both referees and delegates worldwide and is a key factor in the development of both International and Domestic Referee Associations. Called upon to officiate at the highest levels of both international and collegiate matches he continues to stockpile a wealth of experience. His dedication to the growth and development of the sport is unparalleled among elite referees, and for that we are grateful.
Tom Hermstad Distinguished Referee Award (Scholastic): Levon Dermendjian – Levon has been a “behind the scenes” kind of referee throughout his career and has been the recipient of tremendous success based on his “just show up and ref” attitude. He has given of his time and resources time after time to afford himself as much experience as he can in the interest of professional development. In 2012 Dermendjian was called on to referee his first MPSF Tournament at USC. He also wore the whites for USA Men's National Team matches, one vs. Italy and the other against Croatia. He has worked tirelessly in his zone and nationally to develop and train newer referees, while maintaining a full schedule of officiating games himself at the highest level. Our thanks and congratulations to Levon, he has a very bright future ahead of him.
Aaron Chaney Distinguished Referee Award (Developmental): Justin Nicholas – Justin Nicholas is the epitome of what a developmental referee is all about. He has a true passion for the game and over and over again has given continuously of his time and resources for the development of his craft. He has traveled at his own expense to many events in the interest of his own professional development, and has also been a key factor for the development of the game as well, not only in his home zone but nationally as well. In 2012 Nicholas whistled the gold medal match of the Rock-tober PCA 12 & Under Classic. In addition he was called on to work the Texas High School State Championships and the Commerce Tourney this past summer.
Barbara Kalbus Distinguished Volunteer Award: C.J. Ramirez – Rose Bowl Water Polo Club and Coastal California Zone – C.J. Ramirez is recognized for his dedication to the growth and success of the Rose Bowl Water Polo Club and the Coastal California Zone. Ramirez, a longtime board member and past president at Rose Bowl WPC, has been a driving force in increasing membership from 47 members to over 200 not including a recently launched Splashball program. He has helped make the club a destination in the community, serving over 72 schools in the Pasadena area while hosting such events as the Junior Olympics and National Team competitions. Currently the secretary of the Coastal California Zone Board, he has enhanced the zone's communications efforts both internally and externally while volunteering in a variety of other facets in the water polo community including photography and fundraising.
Burke/Ratkovic Zone Service Award: Sean Green, Pacific Southwest Zone – Sean Green stepped down as Zone Chair of the Pacific Southwest Zone in 2012, but not before leaving the zone in remarkably better shape than he found it. In his four year term Green established a functioning zone board to help more efficiently run qualification tournaments, leagues and events. He implemented a zone-wide women's referee initiative, fostering referee equality at all age groups. That directive was part of a larger goal to increase female participation in the zone among coaches, officials and athletes. Green was also very successful in turning around the financial state of the zone, reducing deficits and installing sound accounting procedures that carry on even after his departure. A longtime water polo coach for many San Diego area clubs and schools, he remains active in the game today as a USA Water Polo official and member of the Del Mar Water Polo Club Board of Directors.
Technical Service Award: Richard Foster, FINA TWPC – Richard Foster has dedicated his life to aquatics, and more specifically water polo. Starting in his collegiate days as a member of the Long Beach State Water Polo Team, Foster was just kick starting over 30 years of supporting the sport that still continues today. A board member and volunteer to USA Water Polo since 1981, Foster served for many years as general counsel before two separate six year terms as president of the organization. A member of the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame he was also awarded the Paragon Award by International Swimming Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game. Since 2009 Foster has served as the Vice President of the FINA Technical Water Polo Committee, one of the highest posts available in international water polo. In past years he served as president of both ASUA and USAS, continental and domestic aquatic governance bodies, while also spending four years on the board of the U.S. Olympic Committee. A noted author, profiling the life and times of Olympic swimming champion Mark Spitz, Foster currently operates the Law Office of Richard J. Foster in his 32nd year of practicing law.
Lifetime Service Award: James Stuart, San Diego Shores – The greater San Diego area and the water polo world at large bid farewell to Jamie Stuart in 2012. There are few areas in the game of water polo where Jamie Stuart did not excel. An All-American at El Segundo High School, Stuart was a CIF Player of the Year before moving on to compete collegiately at USC and Cuesta College. A member of the Junior National Team, he played professionally in Australia and competed domestically for San Diego Shores. He left perhaps his greatest mark outside of the pool, as a coach. A longtime member for the San Diego Shores Water Polo Club and OMBAC Masters coaching staffs, Stuart helped mold some of the top talent in the collegiate game over the last twenty years, including Olympians Kathy “Gubba” Sheehy and Kelly Rulon. Known as a genuine, kind, even-tempered coach, Stuart mentored countless other athletes from Masters All-Americans to age-group rising stars. Earlier in his career Stuart piloted the San Diego State women's club team into varsity status while helping the squad to a second place finish at the club national championships in 1993. Considered a pioneer among the Aztec faithful they have dedicated the upcoming season in his honor.
Lifetime Service Award: Dr. Francis Judge, NYAC and Fordham University – The water polo community mourned the loss of a pioneer in east coast and collegiate water polo when Dr. Francis Judge passed away in 2012. As an undergrad, Judge brought water polo back to Fordham University in 1949 serving as player/coach for his four years at Rose Hill, posting a 9-5 record. He cemented the foundation of a program that saw his son, Christopher, play and coach at Fordham and his grandson, Alex, compete for the Rams in 2012. As a member of the New York Athletic Club, Judge won two National Championships and took part in the 1952 Olympic Trials. In 1975 he founded the Hudson Valley Water Polo Club to promote water polo in the New York City metropolitan area. That first year included three of his sons (Greg, Matt, and Ray) who would go on to play for the Iona College Gaels. In 2012 the Dr. Francis X Judge Memorial Cup was established, awarded to the winner of the annual match between Fordham and Iona.
Bryan Weaver Male Master of the Year Award: Gary Becker, Old Mission Bay Water Polo Club — Gary Becker has been a instrumental piece of the Masters Water Polo puzzle for many years and 2012 was no different. Always a key in facilitating masters playing opportunities especially in his home area of San Diego, California, Becker took his love of Masters water polo to new heights this past summer. Competing for Old Mission Bay, Becker played in every age group from 20+ through 60+. At the conclusion of his epic weekend, Becker came home with a Bronze in the 55+ division and a Silver in the 60+ division. On playing in every division available, Becker said, “it doesn't matter how old you are, you can still play water polo, enjoy it, and have fun.”
Bryan Weaver Female Master of the Year Award: Jennie White, Oakland Water Polo – Jennie White didn't grow up playing the game of water polo, but now she couldn't imagine life without it. At the urging of teammate Megan Hernandez, Jennie took up water polo at the age of 50 for the Oakland Water Polo Team. Part of the first women's team to compete at the Masters Nationals in 2001, her squad took home Gold. In later years, White joined the SODA Moms, coached by Andrew Morris, winning Gold at the 2006 FINA World Masters at Stanford, and Silver at the 2012 FINA World Masters in Italy. A member of the Masters Committee, White has helped to find playing opportunities for teams in both international and domestic competition. A graduate of Stanford University she matriculated through higher education in an era before equality in athletics for women. It is that memory and the opportunity she embraced 13 years ago that makes her forever grateful for the introduction to the sport of water polo.
USA Water Polo Chairman's Cup: SOCAL Water Polo — SOCAL Water Polo takes top honors for the fourth year in a row. SOCAL's entire program won accolades at the highest levels in both genders. The 12U boys and girls won gold at the SwimOutlet.com Junior Olympics. The 16U boys took silver and the 14U boys, 16U girls, and 18U girls all earned bronze. Three other SOCAL squads turned in top ten performances at the Junior Olympics, leaving the Tustin, California based club as one of the most well-rounded clubs at the world's largest water polo tournament. SOCAL added a bronze medal at the women's US Open of Water Polo and top five finishes for both the boys and girls at the TURBO Champions Cup this past fall.
Distinguished Service Award: F. Edward Reynolds, Jr. — Ed Reynolds is recognized for his years of service on the USA Water Polo Board of Directors. A member of the board since 2006, Reynolds will step down in 2013. An active member of the water polo community serving as a long time coach for the SOCAL Water Polo Foundation. Reynolds is a California Registered Civil Engineer and President of The Reynolds Group (TRG), a company that restores the earth and potable groundwater. He serves on other Boards of Directors for church, sports and educational institutions.
Background On Award Namesakes:
Monte Nitzkowski is synonymous with men's water polo in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s serving as Head Coach of Men's Olympic Team in 1972, 1980, and 1984, leading Team USA to a bronze medal in 1972 and a silver medal in 1984. Nitzkowski also served as an Assistant Coach with the 1968 and 2000 Men's Olympic Team. Sandy Nitta is a pioneer for women's water polo, an Olympic swimmer as a teenager; Nitta segued to water polo and held the post as Head Coach of the Women's National Team during large parts of the 80s and 90s, leading Team USA to bronze medals at the 1986 and 1991 World Championships. She was also instrumental in the creation of Commerce Aquatics, a groundbreaking program.
Bill Barnett, an outstanding high school coach at Newport Harbor High School, with 10 CIF boys championships and four girls championships, initiated and coached the first USA Men's Junior National Team, then picked up where Nitzkowski left off in the 1980s, guiding the Men's program to a silver medal at the 1988 Olympic Games and a gold medal at the 1991 World Cup. Meanwhile “Doc” Hunkler, three-times named National Collegiate Coach of the Year, was a visionary for women's water polo who fought to have a true national women's collegiate championship and helped guide the programs at Slippery Rock University to unprecedented heights spanning three decades, including ten top-three finishes and a national women's collegiate championship in 1995. Hunkler also holds the distinction as the only coach to win both a Men's and Women's Olympic Festival Gold Medal
Few have groomed more men for Olympic competition than Ted Newland. Entering the coaching scene in the late 1960s Newland turned the University of California-Irvine into a tenacious competitor, earning three NCAA titles as he coached well into the new millennium. Called by some the “godfather” of high school water polo in Northern California, Brent Bohlender's Women's Junior National Teams captured two bronze medals from 1984 to 1999; Bohlender amassed over 1,000 career victories on the scholastic circuit in his time at Johansen High School. Lastly on the club circuit, Bohlender's Modesto-Stanislaus club won 18 National Championships over 34 years.
Bernard, Hermstad, and Chaney all took US officiating to unparalleled heights during their time in the whites. As a past president of USA Water Polo, Bernard also whistled the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games and was the preeminent collegiate official for many years. Hermstad was a fixture at several Olympic Games whistling the 1972, 1976, 1984, and 1988 Olympic Games in addition to four World Championships and has worked tirelessly on behalf of water polo officials, helping to form the USA Water Polo National Referee Committee. Last but not least, Chaney capped an outstanding officiating career serving as the United States referee at the most recent Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 as well as 2004 in Athens.
Current Masters Committee Chair Bryan Weaver works tirelessly for more playing opportunities while also piloting the boy's team at Brentwood High School. Long-time manager of the Men's National Team and holder of various offices since the incorporation of USA Water Polo, Barbara Kalbus continues to give back to the sport today, providing critical history for the USA Water Polo program and overseeing the official scoring table at various competitions.
Andy Burke and George Ratkovic fittingly serve as the namesake for the Zone Service Award; few have represented regional water polo with more dedication and compassion. Ratkovic, stalwart of Southern California and longtime Southern Pacific Zone Chair oversaw unprecedented growth in his zone; Burke, a beacon of Northern California's famed Olympic Club, has remained active in USA Water Polo Premier League and the National Tryout Series; he also served as the Team Manager at the 1964 Olympic Games.
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