On The Record with Austin Ringheim, MIT Water Polo New Head Coach

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Austin Ringheim, MIT's new head coach, spent a year in the wide open spaces of Texas. Photo Courtesy: A. Ringheim

There’s no more challenging academic environment in the world that the one that exists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, so finding successful water polo players who can hack it at MIT is a rare talent indeed.

MIT_logoGiven the academic pressures at MIT, it should come as little surprise that Engineer water polo has had three head coaches the last three years: Dave Andriole quit at the end of 2017 after four seasons in Cambridge; his assistant, Bret Lathrope took the helm last year and then resigned last July; and now Austin Ringheim will take over a program that showed marked improvement last year, going 10-13, including 2-8 in Northeast Water Polo Conference play.

In Ringheim, the Engineers have a coach well-equipped to address the particular concerns at MIT. An experience player from California, he played at Los Alamitos High School under legendary coach Dave Carlson, Ringheim spent two years at Golden Valley College before transferring to Whittier, who promptly went on a tear. The Poets, a DIII program, qualified for the 2014 NCAA tournament, a first in program history, with Ringheim claiming All-SCIAC honors.

He moved into coach high school ball, including at his alma mater under Carlson, ended up at Austin College under Mark Lawrence for the program’s inaugural season in men’s and women’s polo, and now finds himself in Cambridge, where he’ll look to build on a strong 2018 campaign.

Ringheim spoke with Swimming World about his preparation to succeed as an NCAA coach, the challenges of leading polo players at MIT and the enticing possibility of advancing to the Final Four in the first-ever Division III National Championship, scheduled to take place next December.

– Talk about your background in polo, including playing at Whittier in 2014 when the Poets went to the NCAA tournament.

I went to Los Alamitos High School and was fortunate to play for Dave Carlson and Jim Sprague there. My water polo base and my water polo tree were very strong at a young level. I played at SOCAL Water Polo Club all throughout high school, and then went to Golden West College.

My first year at Golden West we were able to win a state championship. We went 28-0 and that allowed me to transfer to Whittier. It was right around the time Justin [Pudwill] was starting to turn the page as a Division III program. That was a phenomenal experience.

Being at Whittier, I definitely understood the balance of what it is to be not only a student athlete, but a scholar athlete and handling the academic-athletic work life balance. Something I like to pride myself on as far as being in this position, [is] having the kids juggle school and research and being TAs [Teaching Assistants] and all.

I graduated from Whittier in 2016 got right into high school and club coaching. I was working for Admiral Water Polo Foundation and with La Serna High School right out of college doing the JV boy’s and girl’s teams. From there I went back to Los Alamitos High School, where I did a year of learning under Carlson as a coach, learning all the ins and outs from not only a player’s perspective but from the coaching side of things.

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Photo Courtesy: MIT Athletics

It gave me a deep understanding of Dave and what he’s been successful at in the past, which I think is a huge asset to what I’m able to bring to the table.

From there, I was able to move. I moved out to Dallas last summer, and then I did a year with Mark [Lawrence] with Austin men’s and women’s as the assistant coach there. I also [served] as the 16 and under boys and girls at Thunder Water Polo Club. I was able to stay involved at the youth scene, which was awesome.

– You were there for the first year of Austin men’s and women’s polo. How was that experience with Coach Lawrence, starting a program from scratch in the vast state of Texas?

Mark’s a phenomenal guy and a phenomenal coach. He became a huge mentor to me, not only on the polo deck in coaching, but often everything and beyond.

[Five Questions for Mark Lawrence, Head Coach of Austin Men’s and Women’s Water Polo]

[The Austin] program is definitely something special. It takes a lot of guts to be the first domino, especially in the region that they’re in. We prided ourselves as representing not only Austin College, but the entire state of Texas. Mark does a phenomenal job at getting his players in the right mentality and understanding that a specific program is much bigger than itself. It’s much bigger than those athletes, and Mark and me—it’s about the longevity of the sport in the State of Texas and in the Southwest Region.

There’s tons of tons of potential and talent littered throughout Texas and the Southwest zone. Everywhere I went I’d be more and more impressed with the [ability] at the youth and high school level out there.

[The Austin roster is] predominantly Texans, which is amazing because it allows the program to showcase what the Southwest zone has to offer. That couldn’t have been any better entry point for me. Being there on Day One when we all looked at each other and said: “All right! This is what it is, and this is what we’re trying to build.”

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Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center Pool. Photo Courtesy: MIT Athletics

That a huge advantage for me as far as creating a program and developing a culture right at the beginning.

I pride myself on my personality and my ability to help navigate the culture and keeping the competitive and positive environment for the men and women to be successful. That’s the ultimate goal. And, the kids out there are second to none. They’re phenomenal, and they work their butts off, and they got a good thing going over there. And I wish them nothing but the best.

It was bittersweet, but it was definitely a move that had to be made.

– Coach Lawrence had been at MIT. Was there anything in particular that he was able to share with you about the culture around Engineer water polo?

The first thing that Mark told me was to enjoy this process. I wanted to be on the head coach track and continue to grow into that role. It’s a phenomenal institution. And all of us in the water polo community and beyond know how phenomenal of a school and academia [MIT] is institution is.

[Lawrence] basically told me that these kids are motivated not only to be student athletes, but scholar athletes. It takes a tremendous amount of focus and grit to not only to get to MIT, but to be able to be a scholar and an athlete at Tech.

I was informed that these kids are highly motivated in what they’re doing, and how to maintain [academic and athletic] balance. But they also want to compete at the highest level possible. It helps tailor to what we want to do and some of the goals that we want to accomplish this season.

– You’re coming to a program where Bret Lathrope, the coach last year not only get good results from his players, but won 2018 NWPC Coach of the Year honors.

It’s definitely an exciting time, and I could not have been any more fortunate to come in behind Bret. He definitely left the program in a great spot. He was a great player [for UCLA] and—as we know—he’s a phenomenal coach. He comes from a great water polo tree that has brought him around the country.

It’s been awesome to get to work with these athletes and have them be well-versed in tactics and technical skills that really kind of allow us to kind of create that fog of war mentality. They’ve been exposed to so much through, Coach Dave [Andriole], Coach Bret, myself, that allows us flexibility into what we want to do.

[Five Questions for Bret Lathrope, New MIT Men’s Water Polo Coach]

Tactically, these athletes are obviously very smart and intelligent, so, having Coach Lathrope here last year working with them—they’ve grown tremendously throughout that last year. And I think having both of us is a recipe for success this fall.

You hit the ground running. And we already have an awesome core group of kids and a great culture, and a great, great group coming in. So, it’s been a phenomenal situation so far. And, in all honesty, it’s been an ideal situation for a first-year head coach to walk into. I feel very lucky and fortunate.

– How do you build upon the Engineers’ success from 2018?

We retain our core group of guys from last year. And with another year of experience under their belt, these guys are highly motivated to be successful. 90% of our athletes that played significant minutes last year are returning.

It you look at it, our education through experience here was last year and now it’s going forward, and we all have a year under our belt. And it’s time to come together as a group and continue to push forward as far as what we want to do as a program, and where we see ourselves going.

– Last year Miller Geschke was a freshman phenomenon, registering 58 goals and 28 assists. Who in on this year’s roster has the potential for immediate impact?

That’s going to be Sawyer Koetters, from Santa Monica High School. He also played at Pride Water Polo Academy, and he comes from an awesome water polo tree. He’s been a spark plug since he arrived. He works 110%. He moves at his own pace, and loves to compete. He fits right into the group, and it only took him maybe a practice to get acclimated.

– How important is the new DIII national championship to your program?

We have our Division III Eastern Tournament circled—that’s our way to qualify for the new Division III Final Four. It’s the top two teams in the SCIAC [Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference] and then the top two teams from the DIII Eastern Tournament.

[USA Water Polo Division III National Championship Set to Begin in 2019-20]

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Miller Geschke. Photo Courtesy: MIT Athletics

That’s definitely very high on our radar. I think it’d be a huge honor and a huge kind of boost for our program to be involved in the very first NCAA Final Tour at the Division III level. John Abdou is a good mentor of mine, and we’ve crossed paths plenty of times. What he’s doing at that level is phenomenal, and I think it’s only benefiting, not only as a sport but those Division III’s programs that aspire to compete at that Division I level.

– Of course, your prime competition in the East is DIII mainstay Johns Hopkins.

We always want to make sure that we focus on what we control, and we want to compete. We want to compete with the big dogs. Our school wants… Our program and my group of guys definitely wants to compete at the highest level, and they definitely want to compete at the highest level in the Northeastern Water Polo Conference. And they’re very, very excited and very motivated to get after it this year. And you know, definitely, it’s never out of the question. You know, we’ve got to just keep chasing a couple of those IVYs, and we’ll hopefully get to catch them during my tenure here.

– You’re in Cambridge, and there’s that other school on the other side of town that gets far more attention than MIT—and probably prides itself as being the better academic institution.

We know what Harvard and their coaching staff has been able to do the last handful of years. And, having them take down Cal last year was a huge domino for the Northeast Conference—showing we can compete at the highest level.

That’s our goal here at Tech; we want to always make sure that we can compete at the highest level. It doesn’t take much for these boys to get motivated knowing who’s coming down the street.

But we make sure that we continue to emphasize our goals and what we can do. And as long as we continue to stick to our game plan and stay focused on what we want to do—and don’t let these external factors and situations kind of play in—I think then we will definitely have a very successful and positive season.

2 comments

  1. avatar
    JVW

    Best wishes coach, and Go Tech!

  2. Cheryl Koelzer

    Incredible coach and mentor. Good luck Coach! We will miss you. 🦘❤️

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