Harvard. Just the name itself makes you pause as it is a school that has always been a special place of higher learning with an unparalleled reputation. Harvard has generally fielded decent water polo squads, however it feels like a renaissance could be beginning in Cambridge. I was talking to somebody at the beginning of the 2010 men’s season who I’ll describe as “a person who knows far too much about water polo” and his exact words were “watch out for Harvard over the next five years, their new coach has incredible enthusiasm and is going to build something special there.” With that advice sitting in my head, I watched as Harvard’s women’s squad finished sixth place at Easterns which was their highest placing in six years. Along the way, I noted that first-year Head Coach Ted Minnis quietly guided the Crimson to impressive victories over Santa Clara and Brown. On the men’s side, I saw that the Harvard men’s twelve victories were their most since 2007 and that they return a strong core from last year’s fifth-place Northern finishers and look ready to return to Easterns. With that as a backdrop, I decided to meet their new leader.
Ted Minnis came to Harvard from coaching at the Stanford Club. During his ten-plus years of service, he won two Junior Olympic bronze medals, a U.S. Club Championship and finished among the top ten at various national tournaments numerous times. He also served as the Head Coach for the Olympic Development Program’s Pacific Zone team and in 2009 worked with the National Youth team staff. In 2007, Minnis was named the USA Water Polo Development Coach of the Year and in 2005 and 2007 was a Positive Coaching Alliance finalist for Coach of the Year. I caught up with Coach Minnis to discuss his Crimson. Below is our interview.
Your Harvard women's squad has had a very impressive season with a rather young roster. Can you tell us some keys behind a campaign that saw you defeat teams like Santa Clara and Brown? Also, what do you need to do to build off of it and challenge for an NCAA bid next season?
I was very proud of the way the team played this year. We played a lot of the top teams in the country very tough. The Indiana game at Easterns was a great game, and a starting point for us to build off of for next year. We did a very good job on the defensive side of the pool this year. I believe we were 11-2 when we held teams to nine or fewer goals and the two teams we lost to were San Jose State and Indiana. Elise Molar did a great job for us this year of matching up with two-meter players and allowing us to deny the ball around the perimeter. Moving forward we need to continue to work hard on the defensive end of the pool.
We were also pretty balanced in our scoring this year. We had three girls with fifty-plus goals, and two more with thirty-plus. We bring all of our top scorers back next year and we add an incoming freshman class that I am very excited about. This year we have gone through all of the growing pains there are whenever there is a coaching change. The team understands the system we run and what we are trying to accomplish in the pool. We have learned lessons from our losses, in close games to very good teams, and I hope we can take those lessons and win a few of those close games next year.
Devan Kennifer has had a brilliant campaign for Harvard this spring. What makes her the great player that she is?
It has been so fun to watch her play this year, and be able to work with her in and out of the pool. Devan does things in the water that you just cannot teach. She is a student of the game, and just has fun when she plays. She is always asking to watch film or just to talk about the game. She has a very strong work ethic that is contagious to the rest of the team. One of the things I first noticed about Devan was that she leads by example. I know that sounds so cliché, but in her case it is true. She would not ask her teammates to do anything that she would not do first. She takes pride in the fact that she loves to play on both ends of the pool. She led the team in both goals and steals this year. She is not only a great player, but also a great person.
While St. Francis and Brown are clearly the cream of the Northern Division crop on the men's side, the other two spots to Easterns look to be up for grabs. What do the Crimson have to do to move past a stout squad like MIT or a team in Fordham that looks like it will be taking a big step backwards next season?
The Northern Division is going to be very tough and competitive next year and I am excited to see how much our team has grown with the work we put in this offseason, and the freshmen we are bringing in this fall. We also get two sophomores back from injuries that are going to add depth to our team next year. I think there is still a lot of growing and improving that we need to do as a group for next season. For us, everything starts on the defensive end of the pool. We need to limit the amount of ejections we take and make teams beat us at even strength. We also need to have good clock management on the offensive end and not feed the other team’s counterattack with poor shot selections or unforced turnovers. We are going to be a fairly young team with a good number of freshmen and sophomores playing a significant amount of minutes for us, so getting them up to speed and on the same page as our upperclassmen is going to have to happen fairly quickly. I think if we can get these things accomplished that we are going to give ourselves a chance to win some games, and contend for a spot at Easterns.
I have always been impressed with Luka Babic. Can you tell us a little bit about his game and what you are expecting out of him next fall?
Luka will be one of our Co-Captains again this year and he is a true leader on this team. Luka works very hard in the weight room and in the pool, he is always in the water working on his shot or just getting in some yardage. I am expecting him to continue to do the little things he did in the pool for us last season; play solid defense, counter hard, and get his teammates involved. But I also expect Luka to be more of a scoring threat for us on offense. He is such an unselfish player, who is always looking to get the ball to his teammates. Do not misunderstand, he was fourth on the team in scoring, but we lose a lot of our offensive production with the graduation of our top three scorers. Luka and I have talked about him looking to be more offensive minded in the pool and look to take a shot where last year he would pass the ball. I look for him to have a very successful senior year, and finish his career here at Harvard on a very positive note.
Harvard is clearly one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in this country. How difficult or easy does that make the job of recruiting?
I am always saying that I am not selling the University to recruits; it is Harvard, one of the best, if not the best school in the world. I am selling what I bring to the table as a water polo coach and as a person. I hope to show athletes that at Harvard they can be very competitive in the pool, while at the same time receiving a world-class education that will help them for the rest of their lives. I also try to show potential student athletes what the future of Harvard Water Polo is, and that we are going to continue to move forward, and keep getting better, and hopefully they want to be a part of that. The biggest thing that I have found is that recruiting is an ever-changing puzzle, and I just need to keep putting the pieces together. It has been a big learning experience, but I am very happy with where we are headed and am looking forward to the future.
Our interview ended on that note. The Crimson are looking strong heading into next fall’s men’s season as they return a number of key parts and have a chance to leapfrog a couple of the teams that finished ahead of them in 2010. The Harvard women should be preseason ranked entering next spring as they return the bulk of their overall production. Keep an eye on what is going on in Cambridge as Coach Minnis has something special building up there.