By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
It was only two weeks ago that members of the Castilleja water polo team were in tears after hearing the shocking news that their coach, Ted Minnis, had accepted the job of guiding the men's and women's water polo teams at Harvard University.
There still were a few tears on Friday morning when a handful of Castilleja players received more shocking news. This time, however, it was tears of joy as the Gators discovered that three-time Olympian Brenda Villa will be the team's new head coach.
"No way," said senior Sayeh Bozorghadad upon the announcement by Castilleja Athletic Director Jez McIntosh. "You're lying, right? She is like my idol."
"This is so cool," said another player.
Added teammate Erica Lantzsch: "I've got to start working out!"
Villa comes to Castilleja as perhaps the most recognizable name in the history of USA women's water polo. In addition to being a three-time Olympic medalist (2000, '04 and '08) and Team USA's captain from 2005-09, the Stanford graduate received the Peter J. Cutino Award was the female College Player of the Year in 2002 and was named the female Player of the Decade by FINA Aquatics World Magazine this past April.
"To replace Ted, it had to be someone big," McIntosh said Friday morning. "He, after all, was the big, lovable coach here for 11 years. For the seniors, I'm really happy for them -- especially after losing Ted for their senior year."
For Villa, it's an opportunity to return to the Stanford community where she built the foundation of her career after arriving on The Farm in 1998 as the nation's top recruit.
"I am excited to return to the Bay Area and be a part of a long-standing tradition of athletic and academic achievement at Castilleja," Villa said in a statement. "I am eager to build on the program's success over the last several years and look forward to working with the girls. I am grateful for this opportunity and look forward to becoming a part of the Castilleja community."
This will be Villa's first time as a head coach at any level. She has been an assistant water polo coach at Cerritos College since 2005 and a swim instructor there since '08.
"It will be great for our girls," McIntosh said. "She can get in the pool and show them how to do it. That's the biggest key, having a coach who the girls have seen compete. She's an amazing role model and we are thrilled to have her on board . . . The girls have a female to look up now. There aren't too many female water polo coaches in the area."
From the reaction of the Castilleja players on Friday, the selection of Villa is a hugely popular one.
"I'm totally stunned she's going to coach us," said Bozorghadad. "It's such an honor."
Bozorghadad was smiling through a few tears upon hearing the announcement. It was quite a reversal of emotions after hearing about the departure of Minnis.
"It was really sad," she said. "I definitely did not see it coming. But, I was also very happy for him because I knew he wanted to coach at the next level. He worked so hard for us for so long."
Minnis also had told Bozorghadad and other players to have role models.
"When I was in middle school, Ted would say we should have certain athletes to look up to," Bozorghadad said. "I looked up to Villa. She's sort of my size and we play similar positions. She was always one of those players I watched."
Bozorghadad and her teammates did just that last month when Villa and her USA teammates played China in an exhibition match at Stanford. Interesting enough, everything leads back to Stanford, where Villa was a three-time All-American, the NCAA Women's Water Polo Player of the Year in 2001 and led the Cardinal to the national title in 2002.
When Villa makes her coaching debut with Castilleja on Sept. 3, it will be at Stanford.
Before that happens, Villa is expected to compete with Team USA at the 15th FINA Women's World Cup from Aug. 17-22. That means she will miss the start of Castilleja's workouts, which begin Aug. 16. Castilleja assistant Jessie Wood will take charge in Villa's brief absence, should Villa be gone. The official roster will be announced Saturday.
Having some flexibility in her schedule was important to Villa, said McIntosh.
"She knew we could support her during her training for the (2012) Olympics," he said.
McIntosh said other than a few weekend when Villa will have to train in Los Alamitos at the Olympic training facility, there are no other conflicts.
The hiring of Villa has been a quick procedure. As soon as McIntosh knew that Minnis would be leaving, he posted the job on the school web site (but had only a few responses) and began checking with his contacts in the local water polo community to see who might be available. Minnis knew that Villa wanted to return to the Bay Area, due her connection with Stanford.
McIntosh contacted Villa and had a great conversation with her on the phone.
"The opportunity to have her own program was exciting to her," he said. "She knew of the program that Ted had built because she knew Ted. She was excited that it was a quality program and a senior-heavy team."
Villa's only concern, McIntosh said, was whether she could fill Minnis's popular shoes.
"I just told her to bring a few of her Olympic medals to practice," McIntosh said.
Brenda Villa likely will bring a lot more than that to the Castilleja water polo program.