On The Record with Ciaran Wolohan, New Wagner Men’s and Women’s Water Polo Coach

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Wagner Head Coach Ciaran Wolohan (green shirt) on the DeNunzio Pool last Friday. Photo Courtesy: Nicole Maloney

STATEN ISLAND, NY. It’s been a tough start for new Wagner men’s and women’s coach Ciaran Wolohan. Installed as Seahawk water polo’s top man just a month ago—following Chris Radmonovich’s unexpected resignation for a new, non-polo life in Atlanta—Wolohan has fast-tracked from assistant to head coach while managing a talent drain that has left Wagner (1-6) searching for wins.

wagnerWatching Wolohan on the deck Friday night at Princeton’s DeNunzio Pool, calmly directing and encouring his players, is to see why he’s the right person for the job. A mainstay of a Seahawk men’s program that launched a scant four years ago, the Australian native made an immediate impact on East Coast water polo—as both captain and tireless grinder—leading the team in goals and assists their first year. In 2017 he rallied his teammates when they shocked Bucknell in the a Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference semifinal and reached the MAWPC final in only the programs second year.

[Radmonovich Steps Down After Nine Superb Years Leading Wagner Water Polo]

The youngest coach in NCAA Division 1 men’s water polo is now tasked with imposing a new culture on Seahawk polo—one that ideally continues the impressive results that Radmonvich engineered over time on Staten Island.

Earlier this month Wolohan spoke with Swimming World about his new role, the impact of his former coach and mentor on a men’s and women’s program that’s one of the East Coast’s best and what it will take for Wagner to keep winning.

– It was memorable when Wagner played Bucknell in the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference semifinal.

That game was one of the biggest in our history so far and maybe for a long time. I sat down with the boys without Chris and said: “This is may be my last game” and put emphasis on that.

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Wolohan during his playing days. Photo Courtesy: Wagner Athletics

We got around to play for each other. I think we rode such a high, we may have played our final in that game, because we went a bit of a low in the grand final. It was the culture that we created: hard working—and we obviously had some really good talent that year. But it wasn’t only that year because I was the only person who left [the team] next year.

All the boys bought in, everyone did their job and it all came together for us.

– Coach Radmonovich’s results speak for themselves and that’s your challenge; maintaining or even surpassing his accomplishments.

It’s definitely going to be a challenge! Chris is obviously a great coach and [he] put a lot of time in—and loved not only the program but the school as well.

He’s laid [out] an amazing foundation for me. I’m still in contact with him. Every time I have a question I reach out.

He’s a great mentor for me, even now. He taught me a lot over the last year as a coach, the ins and outs, the swim sets, when they should be swimming fast [or] when they shouldn’t.

He gave me every tool I could possibly need to take [the team] the next level. With the men it’s going to be hard; we lost five starters last year. We brought in 10 freshmen, so we’re looking forward to them [playing]…. We’ve got two girls on our roster playing over in the world champs so they’re not here this semester. We’ll have them back in spring.

With the women the most important thing is: it gets harder every year to win a championship. To keep that level of intensity but this year this team’s won absolutely nothing. Chris used to say that but three new coaches, a whole new weightlifting staff, new training staff, a new president at the school… this team, it’s starting from scratch.

– You are not the same as your predecessor.

I’ve been with these guys … it’s different coming as a first-year head coach but I’ve been with most of these guys for three years so I know how to communicate to them, I have the ability to get the most out of each player. I understand it’s different for each of them—so that’s going to help me the most.

With the women it’s just hitting the ground running—same as last year—the the same principals that Chris [stressed] but bringing in my own unique [approach].

I’ve been coached by many great coaches; obviously Chris, Scott Taylor in Golden West and then back home with my dad [Eddie] and other National team coaches—bringing the best quality that I see from each of those coaches.

– You talk about player losses; clearly it’s going to be a very different team that hits the water this year than last year.

I think the biggest thing was a loss of seniors. Obviously we had Jasmin [Kolasinac] leave but one of our biggest losses [was] Devon O’Donnell our captain from last year. He was a work horse; he had that grit that you want in a player. He was our center defender… he wasn’t a big shooter of the ball, he scored goals when he needed to but he would drive that play to two, a very unselfish player. That’s someone we’ll miss a lot from a team-building stand point.

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Chris Radmonovich. Photo Courtesy: Wagner Athletics

I looked and I think we lost over 225 goals from our shooters, we lost a goalie that made 300 saves, so it’s going to be big but we’ve got some good freshmen coming in; a Hungarian [Olivr Fodor], an Australian [Ethan Zirh], a kid from Israel [Shaked Yacoby] a transfer [Nicolas Butelet] and then all the Californian high school kids. So we’re pretty excited.

– You don’t have a lot of time for them to all mesh.

We’ve had two and a half weeks’ preparation. One of the things that benefits us is that we are a small school and everyone lives on campus. You’re eating meals with them every day, you’re training every day—two times a day—in the gym and in the pool. The boys are pretty meshed outside the pool.

[2019 Swimming World Men’s Water Polo Previews: Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference-East]

Inside the pool it’s just a process. It’s hard trying to explain to the new guys what the level of Wagner water polo is, considering we’re in a shallow pool and what not—so this weekend [opening at the Bruno Classic] we’ve got four very tough games. But as long as we learn from these games this weekend that is the expectation of how training should be and what not.

– In the end it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

This year is probably the toughest year for the conference since we’ve started. You’ve got George Washington, Bucknell two premier teams that haven’t really lost anyone. Then you’ve got Navy that has … obviously anything that Louie [Nicolao] touches turns to gold. Then you’ve got Le Salle that’s taking leaps and bounds under Tom [Hyham] and then John’s Hopkins also has a new kind of coaching staff there. They’re always tough to play wherever you play them.

The boys know it’s going to be tough. So yeah we’re excited.

[Five Questions for Max Schlegel, Johns Hopkins Men’s Water Polo Coach]

– Oscar Nomura was one of Chris’s first big signings—a California kid who had a lot of size and a good pedigree and now he’s playing for a conference rival.

He’ll do very well at Fordham. The style they play suits him a lot and obviously the first two years here he played really, really well. Last year we  had a lot of talent and he struggled to find his place in that pool

[East and West Collide at Wagner College]

He’s definitely someone we’ve put on the top of our list when we play Fordham. He’s going to be their main shooter so we’re excited to play him—he’s friend with a lot of the boys so they’re all excited to play him.

– Wagner’s New York City rivals make for a difficult—but compelling—schedule.

Last year with Fordham we may have beat them by nine goals in the first game and they beat us in the second game. You know two games we won, one game against Saint Francis by a goal and then lost to them by two later on in the year so they’re tough games you know they can go either way depends on who shows up on the night but yeah we’re excited.

– You’re the youngest DI coach in men’s water polo. Does this put you on the right trajectory for success?

I think I got a little bit lucky. I didn’t expect to be applying for a head coaching job this summer. You know with Chris’s departure quite late in the season I got an opportunity and went for it. I was very lucky the school picked me for the job.

It’s a bit of a challenge being the youngest head coach but I’ve been here for three years now, I know the boys, I know the girls. Chris obviously laid a great foundation for me to take this program full steam ahead like running.