With Curtain Set to Drop on Coaching Career, Maureen Cole Leading Hawaii in Chase of NCAA Water Polo Crown

Maureen Cole

NEWPORT BEACH, CA. In sports, as in life, it’s always best to walk away while you’re ahead. In the case of Maureen Cole, head coach for the Hawai’i women’s water polo team, she’s determined to finish her gig by leading the Rainbow Wahine to the greatest season in their history.

And then leaving with no regrets.

Saying that she’s “been in college since 1999”—after a playing career at UCLA (2000-3; three NCAA titles), Cole was an assistant at Hawai’i from 2007 until being elevated to head coach in 2012—she will leave her mark on the Hawai’i’ record books. With 214—and counting—wins, Cole is not only the longest-tenured coach in program history, she’s also the winningest. 

Cole’s rivals, who know her as “Coach Mo,” have taken note of her success. During last week’s Barbara Kalbus Invitational, Dan Klatt, head coach for UC-Irvine women’s water polo for all of Cole’s tenure, was complimentary of his rival and friend.

“If I’m not playing against Mo, I’m always cheering for her,” he said. “She is an incredible role model and advocate for female coaches. She has battled her way through adversity in coaching. Her values, her intensity and her love for her teams has stayed consistent. 

“There is not another coach coaching right now that will miss her more than I will. I have so much respect and love for the way she [coaches] and the passion she does it with,” Klatt said, then added: ”We’re both in the Big West; we’re both gonna try and win it. [Hawai’i] has an excellent team and I will be rooting for them if it’s not us.”

Following is an interview with Cole conducted at the 2024 Kalbus Invite. It has been edited for brevity.

This year is special because you are leaving. But Hawai’i is #2 in the nation for the first time ever and a prime contender for a national championship.

Maureen Cole: It’s still really early and there’s a lot of water polo to be played. We’ve had a good start, and this is always an interesting year—an Olympic year—because we’re missing people, Stanford’s missing people, everyone’s missing someone. So it automatically makes the playing field a little more level. And that’s the situation where we’ve gotten the jump on a couple of teams. But it’s still early and there’s a lot of water polo to be played. 

You announced your retirement before this season began. Could that be why your athletes are playing so well this season?

Alba Bonamusa Boix

Courtesy: University of Hawaii

MC: As much as they love me—just kidding!—we look at every year in college water polo as super special because we only have a team [for] one year. The seniors, me, everyone—this is special because this group will only be together one time. And the culture with that group is special. It’s not me, it’s everybody—and it’s just as important for the seniors as the freshmen.

No team besides Cal, Stanford, USC, UCLA and LMU (2004) has ever played for an NCAA championship. Yet here is Hawai’i playing as well as anyone. Can a non-MPSF team play for a national championship this year?

MC: It’s definitely possible, and we’d love for it to be us. It’s really level; who’s playing the best game in May. There’s so much room for improvement for all the teams right now so it’s who’s peaking at the right time. There’s a lot of teams that have that opportunity this year.

What will it take for Hawai’i to get past Big West opponents and make NCAAs?

MC: It’s going to take us continuing to get better. As you saw UCI just had a great game against Michigan—they’re always going to be tough. Long Beach is tough, UCSD has a good team this year. Our conference is super competitive, as is the MPSF. Just peaking at the right time, continuing to learn—we have a lot of new people this year combined with some girls who have been around. It’s a lot of improvement [to be made] in terms of gelling together, learning our system. 

Even though you’re fully invested in this season, given your impending retirement, is there anything that comes to mind about seasons past?

MC: There are so many [memories] it’s really hard to pick one. Relationships… each group is so unique each year. The first Big West championship (2013); that group will always have a special place in my heart. But every group has been so special… and then the girls go on to have families and be great in their careers. Keeping in touch with them has been a really fun part of [coaching]. As I’ve gotten older they’ve gotten older too and gone on to do some great things. 

I look forward to watching this current group continue to get better after I’m gone.

You’re choosing to leave the program on top, which is never easy. What’s next in life for Maureen Cole?

MC: It’s been such a layered process coming to this [decision], which I came to a couple of years ago. It’s a life I want to change; I’ve been in college since 1999. I want to see what else life’s got to offer when I open up the period of time after school—get healthy, exercise, be around my family more, start a new career. I’m not that old. I’m excited to see what I else can do in life. 

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Keith Fujita
Keith Fujita
1 month ago

When womens water polo at the University of Hawaii exceeds expectation and is nationally ranked, coach Mo and players should get all the credit. I would like to see on a spreadsheet and compare the athletic budget for Stanford, UCLA,
USC versus the University of Hawaii then you can see the challenges, inspiration and incredible accomplishments. Congratulations and . . Go Bows! Aloha, Keith

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x