Entering this season, there was many a prognosticator who took a look at the CWPA South and dismissively stated that Bucknell would be taking a step back. This was based on the Bison having graduated a star-studded class along with losing their Head Coach. However, Bucknell has not skipped a beat as a third-place finish at Southerns and three wins over ranked teams would evidence. With Easterns less than a week away, Bucknell will be engaging in one of the best games of the first day as they will be facing a Brown team that has been playing very strong water polo over the last month.
Leading the Bison is first-year Head Coach John McBride. McBride came to Lewisburg, PA after spending seven years as an Assistant Coach at Brown. A 1992 graduate of Rhode Island, McBride was once a goalie on the United States National “B” team. I caught up with Coach McBride to discuss Bucknell water polo and below is our interview.
The CWPA looks completely up for grabs this year as there are six teams that will walk into Easterns with a legitimate shot at winning the tournament. What does Bucknell need to do to emerge from the pack?
I am in my eighth year coaching in the CWPA and it is the first time I can recall the East being so wide open. I think all of the coaches have done a great job recruiting and preparing their teams for this year’s competition. As far as Bucknell winning it is simply going to come down to execution. We need to correct the things that we haven't done well and do a better job of working within our offensive and defensive philosophies.
Bucknell's men lost a lot of talent last season along with a great Head Coach in John Abdou, however the Bison have not missed a beat. Can you tell us a little about how you have been able to keep this team at a high level despite the losses incurred?
There is no doubt that the class that graduated last year was full of talent. The great thing, however, is that Coach Abdou had done a great job recruiting and left this coaching staff with a very talented team. Coach Abdou was a big loss for these athletes because they had all signed on to play for him and not us and he is obviously a phenomenal coach but these types of losses happen all of the time in sports. What we did as a coaching staff was we identified what we had for athletes. We very quickly identified who did what well. Based on each player’s skill set we plugged them into our philosophy and gave them specific roles so that we could increase their chances of being successful as individuals and as a team.
This is your first NCAA Division I Head Coaching job as you arrived in Lewisburg after seven years of serving as an Assistant Coach at Brown. What has been your biggest challenge in this new role?
I think my biggest challenge has been getting used to being in the Southern Division. When you are used to playing the same teams or always going to the same pools to compete you begin to get comfortable because you know exactly what to expect when you show up. Let’s use Fordham for example. When you show up to play at Fordham you already know what the pool and the fans are like. There will always be "those guys" who are covered in body paint. You do not have to prepare yourself mentally because you are used to the environment. In the South, there are a few pools that I haven't played in so showing up there for the first time can make you a little anxious because you do not know what to expect when you get there.
Alex Nowlin is having a breakout campaign as he is currently leading your team in points scored and assists. Can you tell us about him and what makes him the great player that he is?
Alex is playing well because everyone else on the team is playing well. The point totals that Alex has are because players are getting open which makes his job as a passer easier. He isn't just a lefty who shoots the ball every time he touches it. Alex does have a very high polo IQ and he, along with his teammates, bring a high level of intensity to every practice. Alex is very humble about his success and will be the first person to say that it has nothing to do with him and has everything to do with the guys who get in the water with him.
Brian Barron has been outstanding for your squad this fall. What makes him the top-notch performer that he is?
Brian is just an extremely hard worker. There is nothing flashy about him. He's got a blue collar work ethic and shows up every day ready to get after it. Like Alex he owes most of his success to his teammates. We have put him in a role where he can use his skill set to help the team be successful and he has taken advantage of that opportunity. We never hear Brian talk about how many points he has, we only hear him talk about his team and what they can do as a unit to perform at the highest level.
With that our interview ended. While Bucknell has a difficult road ahead of them at Easterns, this is a team to watch not only at that tournament but through the next season as the Bison will be returning a load of talent. The tradition of playing strong water polo continues on at Bucknell and it does not look to be stopping anytime soon.