Three Olympic Medalists Heads USA Water Polo Hall of Fame 2023 Class

Photo Courtesy: USA Water Polo

Three Olympic Medalists Heads USA Water Polo Hall of Fame 2023 Class

Olympic medalists Nicolle Payne, Coralie Simmons and Peter Varellas headline the five-member Class of 2023 to the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame, announced on Thursday.

Joining them are coach and referee Aaron Chaney and long-time coach Ron Richison. The class of 2023 will be inducted at the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame luncheon at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Pleasanton in California on June 9 at 11 a.m. Ticket information is available here.

Aaron Chaney won an NCAA title as a player with UC Santa Barbara in 1979 before spending four decades as a coach and referee. He led Iolani School in Hawaii for 20 years, where he won three boys championships and founded a girls program. He won 10 consecutive league titles at Corona del Mar High in California and five straight CIF titles. He also refereed at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, including a men’s semifinal in Athens. He has been on deck for four FINA World Championships, including a men’s gold-medal match and a women’s bronze-medal match.

The 2004 USAWP Referee of the Year, he has officiated 20 NCAA tournament men’s matches, 10 NCAA tournament women’s matches and 15 championship games. He also had the whistle for two FINA Cups and two World League Super Final title matches. The USA Water Polo Developmental Referee Award is named for Chaney, a member of the UC Santa Barbara and Hawaii Swimming halls of fame. He remains an assistant coach at the club program at the Punahou School.

Nicolle Payne is one of the top goalies in USA water polo history. She began playing on boys teams, before girls’ water polo expanded, and was a three-time All-American at Gahr High in Cerritos, Calif. She made her international debut in 1992 at the Junior World Championships and won three national titles as a founding member of UCLA’s women’s team, where she still holds the single-season saves record (225).

Payne led the U.S. to silver at the first women’s water polo Olympic tournament, in 2000 in Sydney. She also helped the U.S. win the first FINA World Championships title in 2003 and added a bronze medal at the 2004 Games to cap her career. A member of the New York Athletic Club and UCLA halls of fame, she was a Pac-12 All-Century Team selection. She continues to coach, recently at her alma mater and also with Team USA at the FINA World Championships.

Ron Richison is a legend in northern California water polo, coaching 22 high school All-Americans, 24 NCAA champions and nine Olympians. His former pupils include Steve Heaston, Kirk Everist, Peter Schnugg, John Schnugg, Craig Klass, Rick McNair and Olympic swimming gold medalist Matt Biondi. Richson began coaching at Del Val High in Walnut Creek in 1965 and spent 14 years at Campolindo High starting in 1969. He took over Acalanes High in 1984.

There, he won the 1987 state title among three CIF crowns. He joined Concord Water Polo Club in 1968 and helped bring it to national prominence. Now retired, Richison also served as the treasurer for Pacific Water Polo for a decade.

Coralie Simmons was twice the NCAA Player of the Year at UCLA, a four-time All-American who won three national titles, capped by the 2001 crown. She  made her first Olympic team as an undergrad, winning silver in 2000 in Sydney at the first Olympics to have women’s water polo. She , shared the nation’s Player of the Year honor that year.

The native of Hemet, Calif., charted a long career in Europe, winning three Greek and one European title with Glyfada and Vouliagmeni. She helped New York Athletic Club win multiple national championships and coached at the University of Hawaii and UCLA before becoming the Division II Coach of the Year at Sonoma State. She’s in her seventh season as the head women’s water polo coach at Cal, leading the Golden Bears to four NCAA semifinals, and has twice served as the head coach of the U.S. junior national team.

Peter Varellas was the top left-handed threat for the U.S. men’s team for about a decade. A product of Campolindo and Stanford University, he won a national title as a freshman with the Cardinal and reached the final each of the next three seasons. The two-time All-American scored 168 goals and earned the Pac-10 Male Athlete of the Year and the Stanford Most Outstanding Male Senior Award.

Internationally, he helped the U.S. win gold at the 2007 Pan American Games and silver at the 2008 Olympics, the latter a first Olympic medal for the program in 20 years. He was part of the 2012 Olympic squad and added another Pan Am title in 2011. He played in Europe for Italian club Rari Nantes and domestically for the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He’s an athlete representative to the USA Water Polo Board.

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