Rob began coaching UC Santa Barbara in 1987. Santa Barbara won the US National Women's Collegiate Championship in 1987 and 1989. In 1987 Margo Miranda was selected as the MVP in the Collegiate Nationals and in 1989 Jocelyn Wilkie was selected as the MVP in the Collegiate Nationals. In 1988 his team at UCSB placed second in Collegiate Nationals and in 1990 and 91 placed fourth in the Collegiate Nationals. Even though UCSB didn't qualify for Collegiate Nationals in 1993 and 94 they were ranked 5th in Nation. He has coached 42 Club and Collegiate All Americans and six women on the US National team including one Olympian, Heather Moody. In 1989 he was the US National "New" Team coach, in 1990 and 91 he was the Assistant Coach to the US National "B' Team, and in1994 he coached the team that won the Gold in the Olympic Festival.
The women’s game has evolved in a number of areas. Those of us that coached the women's collegiate or collegiate club level have seen this. We have seen the women's side take some mighty big steps toward progressive visibility. The primary changes were influenced not only by Title IX enforcement, but the focus and determination of the coaches that participated before Title IX came into play. Those of us that stood for the progress and recognition of the women's side were truly pioneers.
The first year I coached the collegiate club level at UCSB was nothing like the varsity level that now exists. The women’s water polo budget was based on the number of athletes that participated. My budget in 1986-1987 was $500. That went towards caps, balls, travel and competition. Needless to say we had to be creative. We held fundraiser's; bake sales and concessions at our tournaments were standard. The team also rented out a facility to show films for profit. Of course one year we had a film that cost us a fortune to show, and unfortunately was a poor pick for the students of UCSB.
One semester we held a bake sale in front of the library. We had scheduled the women to participate in two ways; bake some brownies or cookies or the like and then work in teams of two to actually sell the goods. I remember showing up mid-effort and all of the items were gone. I thought, "Wow, good job ladies!" The truth was the two had consumed all that they were supposed to sell, and so it was.
It became clear to me that the best way to make money was to host tournaments. In this way we could offset costs. If we hosted a tournament we could attend tournaments. There were no duel meets in those days. We traveled just about every weekend from mid-January through May leading to nationals in May or June. We hosted an annual tournament in April that we called the "Easter Classic". This tournament went from ten of the best teams in the country to thirty-two teams from all over.
The steps became Darwinian. The "Easter Classic" became an odyssey. It was necessary to have A and B brackets for teams that carried more than one team. Our program grew every year, and by 1994 we carried an A, B, C, and D team. We hosted the "Easter Classic," a B tournament and a novice tournament that ultimately became a recruiting tool. Three tournaments in a year! Our budget had blossomed as well. We could now boast $3,500 annually, not including income from tournaments, T-shirts, and our now infamous bake sales. Not to mention a film or two that might actually bring some folks out of their caves.
These evolutionary changes brought a new era of women's water polo to UCSB. I went from looking for a goalie on campus, to having women from progressive high school programs visiting the campus and staying with our athletes. I had coaches calling making recommendations and parents calling to ask what the school had to offer. The time was fast approaching that the pioneers had to settle down and circle the wagons. Women's water polo was here to stay!
Major changes had also begun to take place within the NGOs to facilitate these changes. Campuses all over the country were now beginning to consider varsity status for teams that had been club programs. Title IX was kicking in and the programs that had established themselves were on the verge of reaping the benefits. Looking forward and trying to decipher what this meant was a challenge.
As these changes began, those programs that were at the top; Slippery Rock, UCSD, UCSB, Cal, UCI, Michigan, San Diego State, Cal Poly SLO, and the like would now have to compete with schools that could put money into a women's water polo program. The power base was on the verge of change. Women's water polo was no longer a cozy mom and pop shop; it was a full blown attraction. The base was fueled by high school programming that was bringing women to college campuses that had four to eight years of competitive experience! The growth of age group water polo contributed as well.
Looking back, I wouldn't trade those days for anything! I remember hosting women’s collegiate club nationals, and Senior outdoors back to back, and having the person who scheduled our pool call and ask, three days before we were to begin competition, if they could push us up a week so the club sports program could host their inner-tube water polo championships! Could you imagine? The pioneers have settled and some of us have come and gone, but the will to survive has never faded.
Congratulations women’s water polo, you are on the map! And THANK YOU, Doc Hunkler, Denny Harper, Jamie Wright, Lance Kolding, Bill Gabler, Brent Bohlender, Sandy Nitta, and all of the coaches that helped bring us into the 21st Century with a big splash. - Rob Locke
WATER POLO PLANET.COM: the Alternative Voice www.waterpoloplanet.com