Water polo is a family affair for Cathy Neushul.
She’s raised three daughters on the sport and has watched them take off and shine.
Mom is also a shining star. She’s introduced water polo to many young girls in the community and they’ve fallen in love with it. Under her tutelage as a club coach, several of her athletes have developed into standout high school players and gone on to play at the collegiate level.
But it’s not just the star players who are receiving higher educations through water polo.
“We’ve never had a girl come out of our program who went all the way through, from 12-under to 18-under, who hasn’t been offered a spot in a four-year program, even on B or C teams,” said Neushul.
Neushul is the technical director for the Santa Barbara 805 Water Polo Club. Previously, she coached with the Santa Barbara Water Polo Club. The club recently was recognized by USA Water Polo for its successes in the women’s game and overall, and was honored with two Champions Cup awards.
“If you’re winning that award, it means you’re doing something right,” Neushul said. “You’re not only preparing your top teams, your second- and third-tier teams are performing as well. You can’t win that (award) unless you’re performing across the board and you have tiers of teams.”
SPORTS FIGURE OF THE MONTH
Each Month, Presidio Sports recognizes a local
sports figure for their extraordinary contribution to
the Santa Barbara athletic community. It is our way to
recognize those who are making a lasting impact in
our sports community, whether it is an inspirational
athletic performance, a lifetime achievement award,
or perhaps a great example of leadership.
In 2014, six women’s teams from the SBWPC reached the medal round of various national championships. Overall, nine of 15 teams had top-20 finishes at the Junior Olympics, highlighted by a gold medal from a 14U girls squad.
At the U.S. Open of Water Polo, men’s and women’s teams from Santa Barbara notched top-seven finishes, “showing the true depth of the club through all ages,” said USA Water Polo.
The Santa Barbara 805 Club will be sending several teams to the Junior Olympics later this summer in Orange County. Among the contingent will be four 14U girls teams, which is the most from one age group from the area, Neushul said.
There are 12 teams in the 805 Club, ranging from 18-under to Pee Wees (ages 4-7).
Water polo has been a big part of Neushul’s life. She was an All-American player at UCSB in the 1980s before the program became an NCAA varsity sport. Her husband, Peter, was a two-time All-American for UCSB and played on the school’s 1979 NCAA national championship team. Their daughters, Kiley, Jamie and Ryann, are outstanding players.
Kiley is an impact player on the USA Senior National Team. She won three NCAA titles in her four years at Stanford and last month received the national collegiate player of the year award (Peter Cutino Award) for the second time. She also won it as a freshman. Jamie just completed her second year at Stanford and won a national championship. Ryann started for the Dos Pueblos varsity as a freshman and was the team’s leading scorer. Kiley played on four CIF championship teams at DP and Jaime was on two title teams.
“That’s how it started, of course, with my daughters,” said Cathy of her involvement in coaching. “When I first started, I really didn’t know the opportunity for girls and kids that the sport presents. Pretty quickly, as the first group came through, I started to realize, ‘Whoa, there’s 78 NCAA schools (that play water polo) and one county is where all these players are coming from.’ Do the math. What other sport has that? We’re in an aquatic town here where people are interested in aquatics; the demographic is right for aquatics. There are a lot of opportunities.”
At this year’s NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championships, there were 10 players among the elite field who played club polo for Neushul. The USA Senior National Team has four players with Santa Barbara club roots: Kami Craig, Kiley Neushul, Kodi Hill and Sami Hill.
Neushul is also about developing coaches.
“It’s not only about training players, it’s training young women to be coaches,” she said. “We have a lot of alumni coming back to coach: Makenzy Fowler, Charlotte Hendrix, Megan Linder, who played at UCSB; Alexis Lee, who played for us forever and was a star at Stanford, is also on our staff.
“It’s really cool that we’re training these women to come through as well.”
The club director Kelsey Hendrix also is an alum.
Family involvement is another key ingredient to the club’s success.
“The way we run our club is a family experience,” Neushul said. “We want everyone involved, and they are for the most part.”
She said parents often join their kids in the pool during morning swim workouts. “It’s great for family bonding. We’re running more than water polo here.”