It has been pointed out to me that over the past three years with CSTV, NCAA.com and Water Polo Planet that I have never interviewed a prominent high school coach. The people that generally begin the process of molding a young, raw talent into the special player that they might become. With the women’s season still a month away, I thought we would fill that void by sitting down with one of the most prominent high school and club coaches on the West Coast.
Andrew Morris has presided over Marin Water Polo Club since 1989. When he first took over the program, there were approximately twenty active members. Now the program has over two hundred participants at all levels. Marin Water Polo Club has produced women's players the caliber of Ellen Estes (two-time Olympian) along with current Stanford freshman and United States National Youth team player Alyssa Lo. Men's players you may have heard of include Blake Wellen (two-time All-American and NCAA Champion at UCLA), UOP Men's Head Coach James Graham and current UCLA standout Cullen Hennessy. His success with Marin Water Polo Club has led to him coaching several national teams including the U.S. Women's Youth Team (gold medal at the 1996 North American Championships), U.S. Women's Junior National Team (bronze at the 1997 Women's Junior World Championship), and the 1999 U.S. Women's Junior National Team that earned a fifth place finish. Andrew Morris currently also serves as Chairman of the Pacific Zone for United States Water Polo and as the head men's and women's coach for Marin Catholic High School. Below is the transcript of my interview with this great coach.
Marin Water Polo Club has produced well over a hundred NCAA Division I water polo players in your tenure. What is the biggest piece of advice you give high school juniors and seniors through the recruitment process?
My advice to high school juniors and seniors is to keep their options open and to learn as much (academically & athletically) about each institution. I want their collegiate decision to be a good decision for their future. For many of my junior and senior players, water polo is a significant part of their life in high school. As they enter college and engage in life, water polo doesn't remain as large a part of their life, hence the importance I put on learning all they can about their collegiate options. When college freshman and sophomores return home and visit, one of my questions to them is 'now that you have experienced college life was your decision a good decision?"
You have coached a number of athletes who became top NCAA players or Olympic standouts at the point when they were first hopping into a pool (Ellen Estes immediately comes to mind as she is arguably the greatest hole set in the history of United States women's water polo)? What do you think is the most important thing a high school coach can do when molding a special talent at an early age?
I believe there are two important focuses for coaches. The first focus should be of fundamentals and experience. Athletes need to have a solid fundamental base to be able to play and excel in the sport. This comes with a lot of experience along with a program that stresses fundamentals. Some of the dominant programs in Pacific Water Polo have a great understanding and respect for the fundamentals for the game. Year in and year out these programs develop great teams and players. The second focus is that of patience. Unfortunately I think our culture has grown to a 'want everything right now' attitude without realizing the length of time it takes to develop the necessary skills to achieve their goals. Working towards a goal such as playing for an NCAA institution or being recognized for our National Team Program can be a long arduous process. Readers should know that Ellen Estes was first cut from the Junior National Team try-outs before being selected to represent the USA on the Junior National Team.
What was the biggest challenge in making Marin Water Polo Club what it is today?
Marin Water Polo was founded in 1969 by Chuck Metz. When I came into Marin Water Polo as a coach in 1989 the club had already been in existence for approximately 20 years and was a well-established club. Continually providing an opportunity for the Marin youth to play water polo has probably been the biggest challenge. Specific to this challenge is the recruitment of qualified and enthusiastic coaches. Our coaching staff is comprised of individuals who have full time jobs and coach for the love of the game.
You have had the opportunity to coach several United States Junior National and Youth teams. Can you tell us about those experiences coaching elite level United States teams and how big a challenge it is coaching the amount of talent that must have been in the water?
For a few years I was on the Women's Junior National Team staff and for one season I was the coach of the Women's Youth Team. My involvement with both of these teams was a fabulous experience. During my involvement with those teams the level of talent was great; however team chemistry was critical to our success. Initially I was surprised with the amount of discussion surrounding team leaders vs. followers, but having seen players go from the try-out process to the numerous days of travel and training together to the international competition I now see and agree with the importance of this consideration. I would say coaching the talent wasn't that big of a challenge, but managing the egos/feelings was a bigger challenge.
In your estimation as Pacific Zone Chair, what would you say is the biggest challenge facing water polo at the Youth level?
In my opinion, our biggest challenge at this time is the local organization of our sport. USA Water Polo is striving to grow membership; however the organization at the local level will be a significant factor of achieving this goal.
Looking back over your career, which victories stand out as the most memorable for you?
When I began coaching water polo in 1989 I was involved with the Marin Water Polo Club as well as Novato High School. I would have to say that my time at Novato High School with the girls program was probably my most memorable. The family involvement in the program along with the caliber of athletes made for a great journey, which led to some fantastic games and opportunities for the athletes. Those years at Novato High School were truly a great journey.
Finally, how proud are you to survey the water polo landscape and see Marin players dotting record books of Division I colleges and competing at every level?
It is great to see numerous Marin players amongst the collegiate teams. When I go to college tournaments these days I tend to spend more time speaking with former players than actually watching the games. It is great to see players still playing during their college years.
With that our interview ended. Last summer, Marin Catholic (my alma mater) asked me if I could comment on which teachers influenced my life the most. I made sure to mention my three favorites. Then I asked if I could mention a coach as well, because I wanted to make sure Andrew was mentioned as well. If it was not for his guidance at Marin Water Polo Club and the fact that he kept me playing a game that quite frankly I was not very good at early in my high school years, then I definitely do not attend and play water polo at Fordham University. That means my life path ends up completely different and probably not as good. People forget the impact that high school coaches have on young athletes. Perhaps coaches on the collegiate level are more famous, however the coaches on the high school level contribute just as much to the overall level of play in this country.