Their name sticks out the moment one looks at the challengers for the Eastern crown. It is sandwiched amongst large state schools like Michigan, Indiana and Maryland. It mingles with Ivy League schools that have rich water polo histories like Princeton and Brown. It is a school of 1,480 students that is dreaming about creating some madness in May. Hartwick is the “Little Engine That Could” of women’s water polo and they are poised to have a season for the ages.
Alan Huckins has been the head coach of Hartwick since 2004 and all he has done is make three trips to the NCAA Tournament and establish the Hawks as a dominant force in the East. A former Head Coach at Bucknell and Assistant Coach for the Women’s National team, Huckins has carved out an impressive coaching resume since graduating from Slippery Rock in 1992. As a player, Huckins was a three-time All-American at Slippery Rock. I got a chance to speak with Coach Huckins about his team and below is the transcript of our interview.
What does Hartwick have to do to win the East and get back to the NCAA Tournament?
We have to keep improving as individuals and as a team. Because of study abroad trips, transfers, players on the swim team, and a team battle with the flu we did not practice as a team until the twelfth of February, so we are just getting things rolling. Most importantly we need to stay healthy. If everything falls into place, then I think we have a good chance at competing for a conference championship.
Your team always has a lot of international players on it. What is the biggest challenge in recruiting overseas?
There are so many things that go into recruiting, be it domestic or international. But the biggest challenge is to convince a player and their parents that a school of 1480 in the middle of New York State is a good place to get an education and play water polo.
Can you tell us a little bit about Kirsten Hudson and what makes her the special player that she is?
Kirsten has that killer instinct that you wish all players had. She hates to lose more than anything. She wants to be the best player that she can be and she wants to make all the players around her better as well and she brings that attitude to practice every day.
Jessica McKee was the Newcomer of the Year last season in the CWPA. What do you think her future holds?
Jessica has a bright future! She is getting faster all the time and has really got a grasp on the offense. As long as she keeps improving, she will be someone we can run our offense around.
Barbara Amaro is also an outstanding player for your team. What makes her an outstanding player?
Barb is one of the best center defenders I have coached. She has strong legs and a good knowledge of the game.
Jessica Dornan is outstanding in the cage for your team. What makes her a top-notch goalie?
Jess has the size and the reactions that you need to be a great goalie. Last year she just used her size to block shots, this year she has learned to use her legs and has been doing a good job of positioning. She is well on her way to being the best goalie in school history.
Are there any newcomers that you think might make an impact for your team down the stretch?
Right now we are starting four freshmen (Lisa Bass, Alyssa Analytis, Shannon Leonard and Sian Ells-Tewhiu) and as I said before we need them to keep improving as individuals and learn the system. The more they practice with us and the more games we play the better all of us will be.
With that our interview ended. A year ago on “Talking Water Polo at the Planet”, I used the term “gimmicky” when describing Hartwick and it was probably one of the more regrettable things I have ever said in regards to describing a team or player. What should have come out of my mouth was “well-coached” or “uses a lot of motion on offense to create scoring opportunities.” Hopefully this article can help serve as a mea culpa as this is a great program that has an outstanding opportunity to win the East and get back to the NCAA Tournament this season. Every sport needs a great story and I cannot think of a better one than watching this small school from Oneonta, New York make a “Hoosiers” type run for NCAA glory.