As the playoffs begin, the Orange Coast College men’s and women's water polo teams led by coach Dan Matulis have become the squads to beat.
This year, the men’s team is currently 16-7, and they finished in third place in the Orange Empire Conference championships beating Riverside 14-12 on Saturday the 6th. Its next match is Friday against Cuesta in Chula Vista for the Southern California regionals at 11:15 a.m.
The women’s team is currently 18-4. It played in the OEC championship match against Fullerton and came in second place after losing 11-7. The Pirates’ next match is TBA as to whether they continue playing in the Southern California regional playoffs.
In 2019, before Matulis arrived, the women’s team went 4-17 and the men’s squad went 17-7. In his first season, he nearly matched the men's record and completely turned around the women’s team.
“I think for us, keys to success have been hard work – working hard on a consistent basis,” he said. “That encompasses showing up on time and holding each other accountable.”
Attendance, accountability and academic excellence are the three most important aspects of his coaching.
“We really work to help the athletes with time management so that they can work hard but they can also be successful academically,” Matulis said. “That's a huge one: balancing academics especially with the super quick turnaround.”
Matilus wants to balance the student with the athlete. Coming off the year of COVID-19, some students were given an extra year of eligibility. This gave the opportunity for some third-year students to step up and lead.
“I essentially have what equates to a junior. As leaders, they've done a really awesome job,” he said. “On the men's side, Garrett Gendron is a third year. He's one of our captains and then I have a second year captain Dane Howell. The two of them have done a great job.”
On the women’s side, Journey Werner is the only third-year player and Matulis had nothing but high praise for her.
“This is Journey Warner's third year, she swam at a four year, then transitioned to water polo [and] then came here,” he said. “She's super mature and she's the lone captain but she's done an awesome job for us.”
These third-year leaders for Matulis have been a factor for his success with both programs. However, they’re going to move on much like a lot of his other players.
“I think short term goals are to just set up and really establish what Orange Coast College water polo is about – establish our identity,” he said. “We're working hard, and we have a team approach and a friendly environment where we have good communication. And if we have those things, the wins start to come.”
With his program, he wants to be able to replicate this success year after year despite losing players every one-to-two years.
“How can we take what we've done this year and how can we replicate it every year?” he said. “And then when we can do that, we can add layers onto it.”
Matulis definitely wants to see the program grow and wants his players to go play at a higher level. Matulis went to high school in Ohio where the water polo scene is smaller compared to Southern California, but he moved to play for Cal State Long Beach where he scored 169 goals in his career, the 13th most in school history.
“I would say within a relatively short number of years we'll have quite a few players at the next level,” Matulis said. “I’m very familiar with what it takes and how to teach the athletes to be prepared to play at that level. It's just one of those things we'll have to watch with time.”