Volume 1 Number 7 Jamey Wright December 1, 2007
Jamey WrightManning the helm of UC Davis women's water polo since its earliest years as a club program in the 1980s, former Aggie student-athlete Jamey Wright has brought national prominence to the program and has served as a pioneer of girls' and women's water polo in Northern California. Since inheriting the team in 1983, Wright led UC Davis to the Collegiate I Nationals 15 times, where the team has placed third or higher 10 times. Then, when the NCAA began sponsoring an annual National Collegiate Championship in 2001, Wright's embarked on a new quest: to bring his program to prominence on that stage. From 2002 to 2004, the Aggies placed third in the Western Water Polo Association, a league whose champion earns an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. In the 2001 season, UC Davis came within one game - in fact, one goal - from earning the automatic berth in the NCAA Championships. Instead, the Aggies qualified for the National Collegiate Select Championships (formerly the USWP Collegiate I Nationals), where they placed fourth. For his achievements, Wright won the first-ever USWP Division II Coach of the Year award by the American Water Polo Coaches Association. In 2005, Wright guided a relatively inexperienced team to a 20-17 season and a runner-up finish in the WWPA Championships at UC Davis' own Schaal Aquatics Center. The season represented the seventh straight in which the Aggies claimed 20 or more victories. For his part, Wright was voted as WWPA Coach of the Year by his peers. Besides his efforts to bring UC Davis closer to the NCAA tournament, Wright has quite literally brought the NCAA tournament closer to UC Davis. Under his leadership, the university was selected as the host site of the 2006 National Collegiate Championship. It marks the first time the campus has hosted an NCAA Championship final event since the national men's and women's tennis tourney in 1995. Wright guided the Aggies to the USWP national championship game six times, winning the title in 1984, 1988 and 1993. In 1999, the Aggies placed seventh at nationals after winning the inaugural Western Water Polo Association women's title, earning Wright WWPA Coach of the Year merit. Along with the team success, Wright has coached 61 All-Americans and has had eight players compete on the U.S. Senior National `A' Team. Additionally, he was selected Collegiate I Coach of the Year in 1991 and served as the U.S. Senior National `B' Team Coach from 1990 to 1999, coaching teams competing in Hungary, Great Britain, Holland and Canada. A 1980 graduate of UC Davis, Wright earned first team All-Far Western Conference honors in water polo in 1977 and 1978. He was a team captain and a 1980 All-American in swimming as well. Wright also earned an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship Award. Besides helping develop the high school girls' water polo scene in the local area, Wright served as the driving force in bringing women's water polo to varsity status at UC Davis for the 1997 season. His role of advancing the sport reached new heights in February 2004, when he was selected to chair the inaugural NCAA joint men's and women's water polo rules committee. Jamey and his wife Nancy, who starred for the Aggies during the program's club heydays, reside in Davis with their children Michael, Hailey and Cameron.

Remembrance of Things Past

As I sat in the Sacramento airport earlier this past season, watching my UC Davis Women Water Polo team talking or texting on cell phones, working on laptops, listening to their IPods, and drinking their Starbuck’s, I drifted back to the 1983 season and marveled at how far we have come in the last 25 years, both in our techno-toys and women’s collegiate water polo.  It is amazing to see how much has been added over the last quarter of a century: travel budgets, warm-ups or parkas, per diem, training rooms, academic advisors, and etc.  Given these advances and conveniences, I worry that many of the players of today have little idea of how it was ‘back in the day’. 

No personal story better reveals the stark differences between the collegiate varsity experience now and the collegiate club experience 25 years ago than the UC Davis women’s water polo team’s odyssey to the USWP 1983 Indoor National Championships held in Syracuse New York.   “Indoors” in those days was the finale of the spring college club season and was the precursor to the first USWP sponsored Collegiate National Championship held at the University of California, at Berkeley in 1984.   At the outset of the 1983 season, I was informed, (as the new head coach of the UCD women’s water polo team), that the season ending tournament, Indoor Nationals, was to be held in Syracuse, New York.  How to afford to travel there became the top topic of our team’s preseason meeting.  While many on the team could have coxed the money from their parents, some would be unable and getting the entire group there was a priority of the team.

Most current varsity team members today know little of what goes into the budgeting process that coaches, athletic departments, and conferences go through in deciding on what tournaments to attend and/or host.  Even as recent as the early 1990’s, most college teams were still “club” status receiving minimal, if any, funding from their university.  In 1983 UC Davis was no exception.  The task of getting the team to New York was a daunting one.  As you might expect, we discussed the typical fundraising ideas that “club” teams usually consider.  We cleaned UCD’s Rec Hall after an Oingo Boingo concert and cleaned the stadium after a Sac State football game to name a disgusting few.  But still we were not close to what was needed cash wise. The final “fund raiser” we decided on was one that I had never heard of before and have never seen again.

World Airways was a fledgling airline in the early 80’s trying to make a name for itself and came up with a novel promotional plan that provided a possible solution to the cost issue of getting our team to Syracuse.  World’s deal:  If you bought a round trip ticket AND flew to a World Airways destination city, then World would give you a free roundtrip ticket to any OTHER World Airways destination city.  Our research showed that there was a Sacramento to Redding flight (once a week, I believe on Saturdays) as well as a daily scheduled flight from Sacramento to JFK.   For those of you unfamiliar with Northern California geography, Redding is about 140 miles north of Davis, roughly a boring two hour plus drive, and (as we found out) approximately a 45 minute flight. 

We adopted a plan whereby the entire team would fly to Redding for the day (about $100/person), arriving before 9 AM, and returning to Sacramento on the only flight out that day, sometime around 7 PM.  Upon returning to Sac we became eligible individually to receive our free round trip vouchers to New York.   Of course it left the critical question of what does one do in Redding on a Saturday.  Most chose to stay at the airport and do homework, (remember, no airport TV’s, no internet, no laptops, no cell phones or IPods then).   After 3 hours of mindless boredom, a few brave souls pooled their money and hired a cab to take them into ‘downtown’ Redding to see the sights.  The Redding airport arrival and departure was a bit like an episode of “Wings” as it seemed that the single airline employee present not only issued tickets, unpacked the luggage, but also fueled the plane.  She was something else! 

The trip to Syracuse was uneventful, but housing there was another issue, no hotel or per diem money.  We stayed with a team member’s aunt in a nearby town, sleeping on floor space in sleeping bags.  Of course being the only male on the trip, Marianne’s aunt banished me to the unheated camper parked behind the house.  While the perks of being a club coach then were few, the number of great memories that flowed from that single trip were countless.

The Redding to Syracuse and back travel was a strange, bizarre and unique solution to a problem that we faced back then. It was a solution that I doubt today’s college teams or travel coordinators would even consider. It may be the reason why World Airways has gone the way of the Dodo.  In an age of entitlement, I realize now that I will likely never again coach any team that would do such a thing and I am a little sad for it.  I recently received an email from a former player from that era who wrote, “I don’t think we realized what a sweet thing we had’.  How right you are Jenny, how right you are.

Lest We Forget: Pioneers of Women's Water Polo

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