The Harrisons of Huntington Beach: A Battlin’ Water Polo Family

Julie, Josh and Justin Harrison at Princeton. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

PRINCETON, NJ. The Harrison family is an inspirational story because of their collective devotion to water polo as well as a tradition of military service that stretches back four generations.

I first met Josh Harrison in December of 2016 when Harvard faced UC Davis in an NCAA play-in match at UC Cal-Berkeley’s Spieker Aquatics Complex. The Crimson had just won a thrilling overtime match over the Aggies by the score of 16-15 to qualify for the program’s first-ever NCAA Men’s Varsity Championship Final Four. Noah Harrison, Josh’s oldest son, was one of a handful of stars for Ted Minnis’ squad; he finished his career in Cambridge as the program’s all-time leading scorer (288 goals). Josh was understandably excited about the win and revealed that—because of his son’s passion for polo—he had taken up the game.

December 1,2016; Harvard Attacker Noah Harrison during Harvard vs UC Davis at NCAA play in games,Berkeley CA, USA; Photo Credit: ©Catharyn Hayne - KLC fotos

Noah Harrison. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

Turns out there was more to the Harrison family’s connection to polo.

Fast forward two years to the Princeton Invitational, where Air Force just finished playing the host Tigers early on a Sunday morning. A senior for the Falcons is Justin Harrison, who is next in line in the family tree. Also on hand to cheer on her brother was Julie Harrison, a junior, who like her oldest brother plays for Coach Minnis at Harvard.

I spoke with collected Harrisons—Noah is now in medical school at Vanderbilt and contemplating starting a club team—in the stands of Princeton’s De Nunzio Pool.

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Josh Harrison: My favorite sport’s surfing, and I pushed all three of them really hard to become competent surfers. [Playing water polo] is their form of rebellion! [Laughs] They all learned to surf because when they were young they had to. Eventually when they became teenagers, they told me: “We like water polo, Dad.” That’s how that happened.

It’s fortunate because by doing that, they ended up in a sport with recruiting [and scholarships]. There’s no collegiate recruiting for competitive surfing.

I was agnostic about it at first but now I’m happy about it.

– Your youngest son is following you into a career in the military.

It’s an honor to serve the United States. I served in the Marine Corps; I enlisted in light infantry. When I got my college degree they didn’t have naval ROTC at my school so I got commissioned in the U.S. Army reserve as an officer. My father served in the Army, his brother served in the Navy, their father served in the Marine Corps.

It’s a multi-generational thing in our family. My grandfather on my mother’s side was in the Army Air Corps and served in World War II.

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Julie Harrison. Photo Courtesy: Harvard Athletics

Julie Harrison: I’m the youngest, and I’ve always looked up to them, so when they [started playing] I followed and found out that I loved it too.

– How is it to be following in your brother’s footsteps?

Coach Minnis is an amazing coach. It’s been really fun being on his team.

– Did you overlap with Noah at Harvard?

He was a super senior when I was a freshman [in an unusual twist, Noah was allowed to take a fifth year at Harvard to continue his polo career; all the Crimson faithful are glad he did!].

– So you got to see the great run by the Crimson. What was it like to be out at Berkeley for the play-in match?

[The Crimson] have a dedicated following. It was really fun and they were stoked to be there.

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Justin Harrison. Photo Courtesy: Air Force Athletics

Justin Harrison: It’s tough balancing the challenges of the academic, the military and the athletic but water polo is something that I really enjoy doing. The military and academic aspects have been great for my life—along with athletics.

There’s not a lot of free time.

– You also got to experience what was a pretty fantastic moment for the Harrison family.

I’m pretty stoked about how it all turned out with my two siblings. I’m really excited about it.

– How was it to face revitalized Navy squad under Coach Luis Nicolao [an 11-9 Navy win]?

It was a really great match and obviously we really wanted to win. It didn’t turn out in our favor but they played a good game.

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Author: Michael Randazzo

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Michael Randazzo is a freelance contributor at Swimming World focusing on water polo. He covers polo all over the United States for SW and other publications, including the Collegiate Water Polo Association, Skip Shot, The New York Times, Total Water Polo, Water Polo Planet and others. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children and roots for St. Francis Brooklyn polo.

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