Volume1: Number 7 Men's Varsity Coaches January 15, 2007

Bi-weekly a varsity coach from the west coast and a varsity coach from the east coast is given the same question solicited from a member of the water polo community. The coaches answer the question independent of each other and their answers are posted here together with a photograph and short biography of each coach. We hope to have the men's varsity coaches to answer the questions in the fall and winter and the women's varsity coaches to answer the questions in the winter and spring.

QUESTION: You have a better half-court offense than the team you played; however, they beat you because of their superior counter attack. What would be your game plan the next time you play this team, and why?

Mike Maroney, Coach of University of Pacific

ANSWER: If Pacific lost to a team because the opponent had a superior counter attack, I would work diligently to create a game plan and practice plan that would limit our opponent's opportunities to execute their counter attack the next time we faced them. First, I would make sure that our front court offense would limit the opportunities for opponents to counter attack. We would work on individual skills that help to prevent unforced turnovers. Likewise, we would also recreate the situations in practice that we failed on in the game. This will help to prevent those pesky forced turnovers. Last, I would make sure that all of our players know how to identify when the opponent is trying to make a breakaway, and to understand the opponent's system of attack. If we understand what they are trying to accomplish, we should be able to prevent certain aspects of the attack.

In order to create the appropriate game plan for the next game, I would want to make sure that I have identified all the factors that created the successful counter attacks in game 1.

Origin - What generated the break for the other team: a certain defensive scheme, a failure to control the ball by our players, or just slower anticipation than the opponent?

Personnel - Is it one or two players generating counter attacks, or is it everyone on the team?

System - Is the team following a certain pattern of attack? Are they looking for first and secondary releases at certain points in the pool? Is the counter attacks just one on nobody breakaways, do they have success with the back line of attack and so on?

Once I have identified the origin, personnel, and system of our opponent's counter attack opportunities, I would begin to manipulate our frontcourt offense so that we limit the origins of counter attacks. Counter attacks originate for a various number of factors, but the usual suspects in front court offense are; 1) forced and unforced errors on the offense's perimeter, 2) team defense which traps the offensive players into forced shots or turn-overs, 3) slow anticipation to the transition 4) lack of speed. In practice, it would be important to work on the skills needed to prevent forced errors, and to break the defensive scheme employed by the opponents. Likewise, it is important to judge if your athletes are able to make the changes needed. If not, are there other players on the bench who could? Players who demonstrate better skills against this certain defensive attack, better ball control under pressure, or players who just have more speed might entice a coach to make a line-up change. Individual speed can make up for a lack of team success in the pool, and it is the job of the coach to look into that option.

It is important to identify the personnel that are creating the counter attacks from the other team. Your team might be able to create match-ups that will be better suited to control the counter attack. Also, it is important to judge goalie outlet passes. Is the goalie hesitant? Are the goalie passes off the mark? Sometimes it is possible to make the goalie hesitate more than normal, or to force turn-overs by aggressively pressing the early releases. It is also easy to spot tendencies by players, and use that "intel" to your advantage. If you identify individual tendencies, you can create your counter defense to have the opponents play out of their comfort zone. For example; a player who routinely finishes a counter attack by drawing an exclusion or penalty shot, might not be as successful if your team forces him to shoot under pressure. This could alter an opponent's confidence and add pressure for their next opportunity. Likewise, the percentages might be in your favor, especially if you identify a player with poor shooting ability from certain angles. Your goalies might have more success from that situation rather than 5-6 or penalty shots.

Although many teams have similar game plans on their counter attacks, many use different systems. If you try to learn the game plan of your opponent's counter attack, you will have a better chance to slow it down. Identifying where they want releases, how many releases are they looking for, what side of the pool are they advancing on, who are they looking to get the ball to within the scoring zone, and by what means are important factors if you plan to slow them down in game 2. If you identify that the opponents are getting two releases on the right side of the pool and then looking for the two-meter defender on a late ball side attack, you can then set up your counter defense to prevent those opportunities, or at least slow it down. Anytime you can prevent the opponent from playing within their normal mode of success, you have a better chance to have success against it.

All things in a water polo game can be controlled by your own team. Stopping a successful counter attack is one of them. Identifying the origin, personnel, and the system of your opponent's counter attack will help a coach and their team to have more success on counter defense and hopefully aid in a victory in the next game.

Mike Maroney

Mike Maroney returns for his fourth year as head coach of the Pacific men's water polo team. The former star player and coach for the Tigers returned to Pacific in 2003 as head coach. In 2005, the Tigers recorded their most wins since 1993, recording a 19-14 record, including a 2-6 mark in MPSF play. The Tigers ended the season ranked sixth in the final CWPA top-20 poll.

Before starting his trek back to Pacific, Maroney started Hartwick College's women's water polo program in Oneonia, New York. He spent the 1999-2000 academic year laying the foundation for a successful opening season in 2001. That year he led the Hawks to a 20-14 record, which included a victory at the Collegiate Water Polo Association Northern Championships. Maroney was honored with Northern Division Coach of the Year honors.

Maroney got Hartwick on the map his third year. The Hawks finished with a 28-9 record, had a final ranking of 13th in the national poll, and the Hawks were one goal away from going to the NCAA Final Four. Maroney again was honored as Northern Division Coach of the Year and picked up Coach of the Meet honors at the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Tournament.

In the spring of 2003, he guided Hartwick to a 23-10 record with a final ranking of 18th in the national poll. The Hawks won the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Northern Division Championship and also finished second at the ECAC Tournament.

Maroney's ability to build successful water polo programs didn't just start at Hartwick College. Back in 1993, he started the Pacific Tigers women's water polo club, which finished fifth in the nation that year at the club level. He coached the women for two years as a graduate assistant, while also serving as an assistant coach for men's swimming and men's water polo both seasons.

Maroney then moved to Corpus Christi Independent School District, where he started a water polo program. From 1996-1999, he was the head swim coach and water polo coach at Foy H. Moody High School in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Among his other coaching achievements, Maroney was an assistant coach for the National Junior Water Polo Team from 1996-99. The team went to Australia and Canada to participate in tournaments. He also served as the Southwest head zone coach for the men's and women's junior teams and was Northeast head zone coach for the women's senior team.

Maroney is a 1993 graduate of Pacific. He received his bachelor's degree in sports sciences. While attending Pacific, he was a All Big West Conference swimmer and All Big West Conference water polo player. He then went on to Texas A&M and received his master's degree in curriculum and instruction.

Maroney is a native of Baytown, Texas. He and his wife, Jennifer (Pacific `94), have three children, Clay (6), Connor (8), and Tyler (11). The family now resides in the Stockton area.

Mike Schofield, Coach of U.S. Naval Academy


1) BALL CONTROL. Most counter attacks begin with an unexpected change of possession at the offensive end. If we can reduce those we will help ourselves. In practice leading up to the game, emphasize good decision making, proper spacing, shot selection, and helping each other when pressured. One very important area to emphasize to your team is that driving late in the shot clock, or driving multiple players at the same time can be very risky unless the ball is protected and the drives are intelligent. Always use shot clocks in practice to help your team with clock awareness.

With an organized front court offense you can control the clock to some degree, and slow the game down to your team's advantage, which will limit the transition opportunities for your opponent.

2) MATCHUPS. Be sure to identify the most dangerous opponents who get tend to get up on the counter and "tag" them with your best, and quickest players. Don't allow these opposing players to cheat off the top and pick on your most vulnerable players. Try and drive these fast break opponents to the 2M line, and make them defend the wings, as opposed to the top line. This allows other defenders on your team to help out from the top in the event the player beats his man off the change of po session. Your goalie can also be helpful by reminding your team from his position, and as needed, calling individual players not involved in the attack back to defense as the shot clock winds down.

3) PREPARATION. At practices prior to the game you can do a lot of counter attack work- focusing in on reaction to change of possession, and in particular, working as a team to defend the counter. Some of the drills we'd use are:

Begin with a half court po session at one end, and at the conclusion of the po session, the defense counters on anything, even if a goal is scored. At the other end, do the same thing, that is, counter back to the original end on anything. Emphasize covering the counter from the inside out, by that I mean training your defense to cover the most dangerous offensive position first, then work your way out to the least. Help your players understand when to foul and drop, when to press without fouling, and when to simply come back to the middle and force the attacking team to take a lower percentage outside shot from the worst possible angle. Help your players learn to stunt the outside player and return to the inside player, which will help slow down the advancement of the ball. Train your goalie to communicate correctly and effectively with his defenders, this will be a huge plus.

At most levels of water polo, anything more complex than a 4 on 3 is usually hard to convert on a regular basis. Of course, the best counter attack teams are more successful than others.

We have a large roster at Navy, usually 25-30 players. We'll spend a couple of hours each week doing a continuous 3 way counter drill, starting with 2 on 1 and working our way up to 6 on 5. If you have access to 3 sets of different colored caps it really helps as well. Start the drill with a blue defender at one end, and a white defender at the other. At mid-pool, have 2 yellow caps attack the blue goal, with a blue chaser entering the play 2 body lengths behind. Officiate this 2 on 1 with chaser as you would in a game, and at the end of the play the 2 blue defenders will counter to offense against the white defender, followed by a white chaser. You can build this drill up from 2 on 1, then 3 on 2, 4 on 3, etc, keeping a lot of players involved throughout. There are many ways to vary this drill, we keep score and see which team can score a predetermined number of goals first. Make sure you have everyone in the workout paying attention to each play, so they can learn from other players success and failure.

This would be a good one to use the day before the game, as it allows you to zero in on defending one counter at a time, and coach your team to recognize if/when you are even, or down on the counter. If you are even coming back to defense, that allows you to defend one way, if you are down, you must defend another. Sometimes we'll just line up 2 teams in a
3-3 halfcourt set, and identify one position where the defender allows his opponent to get ahead on the counter, forcing his teammates to cover up for him in the best way possible. As different positions in the pool get beat, your team learns how to defend accordingly. (This also helps your offense learn how to counter more effectively as well).

4) PRIDE. In many cases, mistakes at the offensive end can be rectified by simply chasing hard and not giving up on the play. We always tell our players to never give up on defending a counter, all it takes is one mistake by the opponent to slow down or mess up their own fast break, and you you are hustling, you may find yourself right back in the play. Usually, if you react to the turnover with 4 hard strokes to defense, your opponent won't go as hard as he would with a lead on you. Many games are decided simply because the winning team had more successful "effort" plays that stopped good counter attack chances throughout the game.

Mike Schofield

Mike Schofield returns for his 22nd season at the helm of the Navy water polo program. Under his direction, the Mids have won six Eastern Championships and competed in 11 NCAA Tournaments. Thirteen Navy athletes have earned All-America honors under Schofield, most recently 2M defense Alex Ratcliffe, a third-team selection a year ago. Ratcliffe's selection to the All-American squad marks the seventh straight year a member of Schofield's team has earned the national distinction. Patrick Rollo earned third-team accolades in 2004, Joe Donahue was a third-team honoree in 2003, Nick Hill was an Honorable Mention All-American in his final three seasons, Sean Foster was named Second-Team All-America in 2000, and Jason Pace made the honorable mention team in 1999.

Last year, Navy posted a 22-7 mark, reaching the CWPA Eastern Division Finals. The 22 wins were the 10th most in school history and during Schofield's 21 years, Navy has won at least 19 games in all of those years.

Schofield is well recognized in the water polo community, having also coached on the international level, guiding the U.S. Water Polo Team at the 1997 World University Games to a fifth-place finish. He also served as an assistant for the 1992 National Team and as an assistant for the U.S. Water Polo Team that won gold medals at the World University Games in both 1991 and 1993. Schofield is currently serving as the Northeast Zone chairman for USA Water Polo.

The Midshipmen compete in the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA), which consists of 20 schools divided into northern and southern divisions. The southern division has been dominated by Navy, as it has won 18-of-23 divisional titles since 1982.

Schofield also directs the Naval Academy Aquatic Club, which produces some of the top young water polo players and swimmers in the country, many of whom have continued their careers at the Naval Academy.

Schofield graduated from Pittsburgh in 1979, where he was the captain of the water polo team and received most valuable player recognition. In 1982, Schofield arrived in Annapolis and assisted in resurrecting a water polo program that had been dormant for 32 years. He took over the head coaching duties in 1985, and his teams have enjoyed 15 20-plus win seasons, playing to an overall record of 464-184-1. Schofield has been named Eastern Coach of the Year six times including last season (1982, 1984, 1986, 1990, 2000, 2003). In 2004, Schofield added National Coach of the Year to his resume, and in March of 2004 was inducted into the United States Water Polo Hall of Fame.

Mike, his wife, Gina, and their sons, Kevin (12) and Matthew (8), reside in Arnold, Md.