Last October, I attended Homecoming at Fordham University with my friend Jimmy. Occurring at the same time were the Division II Eastern Championships. The matchup between Queens College and Gannon sounded intriguing so we made the decision to head over to the pool. It only took about three minutes of game time for Jimmy to make the statement, “Do you remember how awesome Queens used to be?”
There was a sense of sadness in watching that game because Queens College was and still can be a powerhouse water polo school. People forget this now, but the Knights were the first Eastern college or university to win a game at the Final Four. This was a school that fielded great teams with incredible players like Pedro DeLima, John Vasek and Horatiu Tocan. I like to refer to my first college game against Queens College as my “baptism”. After getting thoroughly dominated in two-meter for all four quarters, I found the varsity weight room the very next day and asked how I could get bigger. There are two reasons why the South has overtaken the North in terms of being the stronger water polo conference in the East. The first reason is because UMass dropped water polo; however the second is because Queens College slipped. Maybe the first problem cannot be fixed but we spoke with the man who sounds ready to tackle the second one.
Stepping into the head coaching job at Queens College and hopefully beginning the turnaround of this proud program is recent St. Francis standout Or Gil. The former Israeli Senior National team player is entering the coaching profession for the first time; however he has a wealth of playing experience to fall back on. I got a chance to speak with Gil about the challenge he faces at Queens and below is our interview.
As recently as 2002, Queens College finished third at NCAAs. Over the past few years, the program has gone from being one of the beasts in the East to finishing seventh place in the North last year. What is your plan for getting Queens back to being a dominant program?
I would like to take some of my experience I have had at St Francis and playing for Israel and bring it to Queens. I think with the group of guys that I already have at Queens and with some new recruits we can bring Queens to the place it once was, starting this year by making the Eastern Championship.
Getting named the head coach in April has put you at a huge recruiting disadvantage. What strides have you made in trying to add talent to your squad?
I already started to talk to some players from overseas; most of the students in the U.S have already made up their mind on where they are going to play next year. From the beginning I wanted to recruit players from Europe, players that are going to fit with my game plan style, so I don’t think the fact the I only got the job in April is going to affect us.
You just graduated from St. Francis and are immediately hopping into the fray in the Northern Division as a coach? Do you think that recent experience of having been in the water against the other teams in the North will serve as a benefit for you as you make the transition to the pool deck?
Yes, playing in the Northern Division over the last four years is definitely a benefit. I know everything I need to know about the teams so there is no suprise.
You played for an outstanding coach in Carl Quigley at a tremendous program in St. Francis. Tell me about that experience and how it will help you in your first head-coaching job?
Playing for Carl over the last four years was a great experience. The fact that St. Francis has players from all over the world made this experience even more special. You learn a lot about different cultures, different languages and different ways that the game is played. As a water polo player and now a coach I think that this experience made me a better player and definitely prepared me to be a successful coach. One of the things that I learned from watching Carl is that he is the kind of coach that is not only working with his players about techniques, tactics and the physical part of the game but he is also putting a lot of attention on the mental part. This is something that I will try to take with me and hopefully do as good a job as he did with me.
With that our interview ended. Queens is a program that belongs among the elite in the East. Many people have forgotten that this school is only seven years removed from a third place showing at NCAAs. I look forward to watching Coach Gil lead this heavyweight back into the ring.