New Coach a Splash for Men's Polo
Thursday, October 18th, 2007
By: Alex Dalenberg
Arizona men's water polo is charging through the
regular season, undefeated in league play and ranked third in the nation by the
Collegiate Water Polo Association.
While the team is no stranger to success, winning nine of the last 11 Southwest Division titles, the Wildcats feel they have added the missing ingredient in their quest for a national title this year - a coach.
Last year, Arizona placed fourth at the National Collegiate Club Championships as a self-coached squad.
"It all started off at the end of last season," said team president Alex Kane. "We all decided that a coach was what we needed to do to make that step from just a bunch of guys that have a lot of talent to a bunch of guys who can win on any given day."
The Wildcats didn't have to look farther than their own pool to find the coach they were looking for. After interviewing several prospects, the team's leaders decided on Arizona student Emily Schmit, who also coaches the women's water polo team.
"Emily was always on our list because of what she's done with the women's program," Kane said.
Last year Schmit guided the women's team to a Southwest Division championship and a berth in nationals, where the team placed seventh.
Schmit adds coaching the men's team to an already formidable schedule as a third-year law student at Arizona. She is also pursuing a master's degree in women's studies.
Schmit remains cool and matter-of-fact when taking time out to discuss her schedule in between classes. She doesn't boast. Waking up daily at 7 a.m. "at the latest," working on a 30-page legal paper and a master's thesis, and spending 20 hours a week on a pool deck might frazzle even the best students. But Schmit seems to take the challenge in stride.
"I've kind of added a few things to my plate," she said.
Schmit added that her busy schedule actually works to her advantage.
"I was an athlete growing up. If I don't have my life scheduled, I get lackadaisical about other things," she said. "Knowing that I have only a certain amount of time helps me to get done what I need to get done because I know there is no other time to do it."
Taking the job didn't come without second thoughts, Schmit said. She was at first hesitant because she did not know whether she would have the time to devote the energy she wanted to both teams.
In the end, her love of water polo won out. When asked what she does for fun, Schmit said, "I coach."
"I ultimately took the job because this is what I want to do," she said. "This is what keeps me happy, this is what keeps me sane. I certainly don't regret it for a minute."
So far, Schmit's addition seems to be working out for everyone.
"It's definitely been an improvement," said driver Alex Negronida. "I can definitely tell that we've been more cohesive this year than we have in the past. We really work well together. Having that out-of-water presence telling us what's going on has helped."
The transition hasn't always been easy. Although Schmit has the entire fall semester before the women's team starts competition, she had a total of two weeks to acquaint herself with the men's squad before its season started in August.
"I had two weeks to decide who I wanted on my 'A' squad and who I wanted on my 'B' squad, and then the next week we were traveling and playing," she said. "That was really hard because I'm learning their names - I'm learning all 30 guys' names. First, I have to learn their names and then I have to attach a name to a player and what they're capable of doing."
But with introductions done, Schmit now feels her team is rolling.
"We're ready. We're definitely focused and excited," she said. "I think we all know that we can compete with the No. 1 teams. Not a question. Not only compete with, but win."
It's a good year for Arizona to feel that way. The team will host the Southwest Division Championships at the end of October, and in November Arizona will host the national championships at the Student Recreation Center pool.
"It's huge. It's going to be so exciting," Schmit said. "The best club water polo in the country is going to be at our Student Rec Center."
Negronida feels the same way.
"It's huge for us," Negronida said. "Every other place we've been, to see the crowds the host teams get and the kind of support they get - we're really looking forward to that. We always talk about how sweet having the home-pool advantage at nationals would be."
Having swept its local competition so far, Arizona is hoping for a run at the national championship. With home-pool advantage, a squad of veteran players and, above all, a new coach, Kane said the trick is just to keep up the intensity.
"We just need to keep up our momentum all the way into November," he said.