In June of last year, Loyola Marymount announced a further investment into their already first-class water polo programs. The school increased their commitment to the sport by giving the men's and women's squad their own head coach. Assuming the role of women's Head Coach was former LMU great and the current Assistant Coach at that time, Kyle Witt.
Witt had always been a head coach in waiting as he quietly possesses every single quality that you would look for when selecting somebody to lead your squad. Prior to becoming the head coach of the Loyola Marymount women, Witt served as the Assistant Men's and Women's Coach under John Loughran. Before that, he was the men's and women's coach at Gannon University where he spent two seasons as the head coach for their men and one season leading their women. As a player, Witt was an outstanding two-meter and ranks sixth all-time on Loyola Marymount’s goals and assists lists. I got a chance to speak with Coach Witt about this year's LMU team and his new role. Below is our interview.
Can you tell us what you learned from being by John Loughran's side and how you will apply it to your own coaching career?
John is obviously a coaching mentor of mine and is someone that I have known for the better part of twelve years. I have had some other mentors as I have moved through my short coaching career such as Jon Reichardt at Mira Costa, Mitch Carty at Whittier College, Bill Elias at Gannon, and Richard Corso at Los Angeles Water Polo Club and CAL just to name a few. In short, I’ve stolen a ton of drills, ideas, and philosophies from many of those people listed above; but none more then John. John is always fair with his athletes and treats them all as equals. It might sound simple, but in a team sport, it is real easy to focus on just field players, or the starters, or even just your best player. John has the ability to hold everyone accountable from the All-American to the freshman walk-on. That is what I am trying to take from my coaching with John Loughran. When he returns to the pool deck shortly, I will certainly be seeking his advice once again. And of course, he will tell me that I am doing everything wrong as only he can.
Nicole Hughes was one of the top players in the country last season for the Lions. How are you going to replace a player who was so dominant in so many facets of the game?
Last season Nicole led our team in shot attempts, goals scored and steals. So obviously her graduation will be felt within the program but the current team has taken it upon themselves to cut our goals against average and to work harder on the offensive end to make up for her loss. One single player is not going to replace her stats and leadership, but we feel like with a combined effort, we can be an even better, more balanced team than last year. For those of you craving a Nicole Hughes update, she is currently playing professionally in Australia and she helped lead her team to the Sydney finals for the first time in team history. I’m hoping in the near future she will get the opportunity to try out for the National team because I feel like she is talented enough and would fit quite well into Adam Krikorian’s system.
Diana Romero, Anne Scott and Casey Flacks were all key contributors to last season's squad and are players who should contend for All-American status in the upcoming campaign. Can you tell us a little bit about each of them and why they are so effective?
All three of those players were All-American’s for us last year, and I’m looking for them to repeat the feat again this year. We run a very up-tempo attacking system that requires a lot of endurance, game sense and communication. Most colleges run a European type system of a dominant two-meter player, exceptional outside shooting, and hard presses to an eventual late zone. While we have some solid two-meter players, outside shooters that can capitalize on zones, and a solid press; we focus on different aspects of the game to get the advantage over our opponents. We have a very strong counterattack that will then finish into lots of driving. Our style is hard to match-up with and I will be leaning on Anne, Casey, and Diana to help lead the transition into a different system under a new coach. Anne has great offensive awareness and her speed makes her quite a problem for the other team on the counterattack. Diana should be one of the top two-meter defenders in the country and she leads our offense from the point quite well. Casey could probably be best described as our eraser since she always makes up for others mistakes and seems to know where the ball is going before anyone else. Those of you that watched LMU play last year, undoubtedly heard Casey directing the team from the water; so her communication is key to our team’s success again this year.
Can you tell us a little bit about your incoming class and what they will bring to the Lions this season?
I think that speed and high water polo IQ’s are the terms that I would use to best describe this class. In 2008 we started two freshmen in Mary Ann Campos and Diana Romero and in 2009 we started two freshmen in Kimberly Benedetti and Casey Flacks. Once again we have some freshmen that will compete to start for us and we will certainly have these young players getting some minutes for us. I anticipate Kristine Cato, Sophie Howard, and Erin Manke to compete for starting spots right away while Morgan Bonk, Camille Hopp, Jessica Morelos, and Michelle Slagle will all compete for minutes as well. Cato should compete for our starting goalie spot after spending a year redshirting at USC, Howard will compete for a spot as well as she gets used to the American game after coming to LMU from the New Zealand Junior National Team and Erin Manke is a lefty who played for the U.S. Junior National Team. I expect all three of those girls to compete for starting spots and to push our current starters for serious minutes. Bonk is a raw athlete from Chicago who is getting a lot of experience in practice to help her develop. Hopp won a JO medal with SET and is currently training with our swim team and will rejoin us full time in mid-February and should find some playing time quickly. Slagle is a converted goalie from American River who has a ton of potential as she has been learning the game from a field player’s perspective. Morelos is from Santa Barbara Club where they train extremely hard and have incredible game sense. The good thing about a small school like LMU is that we have a small roster that allows for many girls to play in practice so that they can develop not only through watching, but also through participating in practices.
With the NCAA campaign close to getting underway, what are your thoughts on how things will shake out in both the WWPA and nationally?
The WWPA will once again be a tough conference. LMU might have won six of the last eight WWPA titles, but there certainly have not been any cakewalks and our opponents have always played some of their best games against us. There have been some coaching changes that will certainly change some of the playing styles within the conference and that could shake things up a little bit. I think the top of the conference would have to be Bakersfield, LMU, Santa Clara, and UCSD. All squads return a good number of players and have had a lot of recent success that should translate into this coming season. On the national scene, our team goal this year is to crack the top five. Rankings have never meant much to our program because we always seem to be ranked below opponents that we have beaten head to head. But in order to crack the top five, that means that we have beat some of the top teams in the country this season in CAL, Stanford, UCLA, and USC.
With that, our interview ended. While this might be Kyle Witt's first year at the helm of Loyola Marymount, I can tell you from speaking with him through the years that Witt is an exceptionally sharp water polo mind. Nicole Hughes has graduated and that is a major loss. However, the cupboard is not bare at Loyola Marymount and I fully anticipate the Lions being a factor in both the WWPA and at NCAAs once again.