Don’t let the fact that USC ran the table to its fifth consecutive national championship lead you to believe that the Trojans breezed through the 2012-2013 season.
On the contrary, the pursuit to perfection’s closest scare came in the title bout that could’ve ended the dynasty altogether. Head coach Adam Wright and his 2nd ranked UCLA Bruins pushed their cross-town rivals to the brink, until, with 40 seconds remaining in the match, the Trojans quashed the upset bid and secured USC’s undefeated season. In four years at the helm for UCLA, Wright has returned the Bruins to the national championship match on three occasions, won the MPSF Conference Tournament twice, and was named MPSF Coach of the Year in 2011.
But Wright is not the only Men’s Water Polo head coach who has his team reaching higher levels so early into his tenure. In fact, another MPSF conference rival might play an even bigger spoiler when USC begins its bid for a sixth straight title next season. In five seasons, Pacific’s James Graham has transformed a squad that lost twice as many games as it won into a winning program. In the last two years, Pacific has finished sixth in the final RPI standings. Next year’s Tigers return all of the 2012 squad’s starters, including reigning MPSF player of the year Balazs Erdelyi.
Other coaches who have their teams on upwards trajectories include Air Force’s Jeff Heidmous and Bucknell’s John McBride. Returning in 2010 to coach Air Force, after leaving the program in 1999, Heidmous has, in just his third season this stint, guided the Falcons to the school’s first WWPA title since 1994, and first national semifinals appearance ever. Heidmous was named WWPA Coach of the year at season’s end. Meanwhile, McBride, in just his second year, oversaw a season in which Bucknell recorded its most wins since 2009 en route to its first ever Southern Championships crown and first Eastern Championships title game in almost 20 years.
The chart below displays improvement in RPI (represented by the y-values) and win totals (bubble size proportion) since each coach’s first year.