With men’s water polo kicking off in less than a month, we have a special treat as a United States Water Polo Hall of Famer stopped by to discuss his squad. Trying to summarize a career as illustrious as Mike Schofield’s has been is nearly impossible. However, we are hopefully going to do this legend justice over the next thousand words. In twenty-five seasons at Annapolis, Mike Schofield has led the Naval Academy to fourteen NCAA appearances and nine Eastern Championships. He has been the Eastern Coach of the Year eight times, National Coach of the Year once and has produced twenty-five All-Americans in his tenure. His career as a coach is not limited to the college level as Mike Schofield was the head coach of the United States National team for the World University Games in 1997 and served as an assistant at that same event in 1991 and 1993.
Navy has been the class of the East and that dominance has only been increasing as the Midshipmen have won the past three Eastern Championships. While Navy may have lost several key contributors, the Midshipmen have the firepower necessary to defend their crown. We sat down with the legend that patrols their sidelines and below is our interview.
Navy has won three straight Eastern titles and will be in the hunt for a fourth. What does your squad have to do in order to defend your crown?
The main thing we have to do is make sure we put in the time and effort over the course of the entire season that allows us to peak for our CWPA Southern Championship and then Easterns. We had a good spring, and quite a few of our players were able to do some things this summer. The team is taking a good first step towards the fall with a "Tour of California" July 30-Aug 13 that will include a good mix of training sessions and games.
We're blessed with a large roster of motivated players, if we can find the right mix of skills and personalities within this group; I think we'll be in the hunt again. We do count on our players to develop and improve each season, and try hard to provide them the opportunity to train and compete year round. We'll see how that pans out in the Fall.
You lose a critical component in your success in Mike Mulvey. How do you replace what he brought to the table both offensively and defensively?
Michael was our "Brain" for his last two years, he would probably add that I might have called him a few other things as well from time to time, but that's another story... He won our school's top athletic award at the end of the year, so yes, he'll be very hard to replace. Mike's five classmates also contributed greatly; Chuck Baker, John Connors, Marek Malik, Andrew Neuwirth, and Dan Zoellick.
Clearly we need our returners to step up and take on leadership roles- at practice, and in games. Mike was really good at keeping everyone on the right page at both ends, the team respected what he said and tried very hard to follow his lead. We do have plenty of guys back who have also gone to the last three Final Fours, so it's not like the cupboard is bare. I expect all of our Seniors and some of the younger guys to pick up the slack, including some who didn't see much PT last fall. It will start with the Seniors, as it always does here. Our team captain, Brett Rajchel, was the best performer for us all summer, and has the benefit of being our starting goalie last year. Brett is part of the biggest senior class we've ever had, so he'll have plenty of help from Zack Anderson, Kevin Bell, Ian Hunter, Drew Kollmann, John Meiners, Joe Moffit, Dan Pedrotty, Scott Simeral, Dominic Valentini, and our student-coach Justin Stevens.
Kyle Wertz was the first freshman in Navy history to be named an All-American. Can you tell us a little about him and what makes him so effective?
Kyle is a very good left-handed shooter, first and foremost. He scored some big goals for us last fall, including the NCAA's where he was the leading scorer in the tournament, despite missing half of the 3rd place game due to a cut. We feel Kyle can continue to improve in every facet of the game, and he showed us some of that potential this summer. We want to see Kyle improve his strength, overall fitness, mobility, and defensive skills, along with becoming more comfortable posting up when we need it. We want Kyle to contribute to the leadership on the team by becoming more consistent in his approach to training, the added maturity that usually follows that first year here should be a big help to Kyle, as well as the rest of our sophomore class, which we like a lot.
Brett Rajchel was solid between the pipes in his first season as a starter. What are you expecting out of him in his senior campaign?
Everyone on our team knows how hard Brett has worked since he got here. His election as our team captain by his teammates is evidence of that. Brett got thousands of repetitions at practice during his first two seasons, and played in a lot of JV games, B games, and practice games as a freshman and sophomore. When his time came last Fall, Brett was ready and was a huge factor in our success. Since then, he's continued to work with Mladen Stanicic, who does a fantastic job with all of our goalies, and improved as much as anyone on our team since December.
To answer your question directly, we expect Brett to continue doing what he's always done- show up early, work hard, have fun, and set a great example for everyone in our program.
You announced a large recruiting class in July. Can you give us some insight into that class and what they'll bring to Navy?
We have a good group of freshmen this year; they arrived in early July for Plebe Summer and will join the rest of the team for our first practice on Aug 18. Rather than single any out at this point, I'll say that we look forward to watching them develop and begin to push the older guys as soon as possible. We have a nice mix of players from around the U.S. as well as some homegrown guys who know our style of play and are very familiar with the Naval Academy. As a group, they have a lot of speed, quickness, mobility, and ball skills that should help us down the road.
With that our interview ended. When I graduated from college and began my work career, one of my earliest mentors gave me advice which I never forgot. She told me that consistency was the true measure of greatness. That anybody can put in one perfect day, but the truly special people are the ones that deliver on a daily basis. I cannot help but remember that line when looking at how special Mike Schofield has been during his time at Navy. Since the program was resurrected in 1982, Navy has won at least nineteen games each season. That means Mike Schofield has delivered each season since he assumed his role in 1985. Not only that, but Navy is his program. He took Navy over in its infancy and built it into the power that it is today. He never had to sit in somebody else’s chair to be great. That is because he made his own chair special.