Emily Schmit ’97 had no interest in coaching – until she showed up at her younger brother’s (Cason Schmit ’02) O’Dowd water polo game and was persuaded to help out. Her perspective changed pretty quickly.
Schmit had been a player on the inaugural O’Dowd water polo team and played collegiately at Indiana University, helping the Hoosiers reach the national championship tournament in 1997 and 1999.
“Coaching at O’Dowd gave me back the joy in my sport that college had siphoned off. What I didn’t know during my time at O’Dowd was that I was beginning to develop my coaching philosophy: you can work hard, be successful – both in the classroom and in the pool – and still have fun,” Schmit said.
Now the head women’s water polo coach at Cal State Monterey Bay, Schmit was one of nearly 20 former water polo and swimming athletes and coaches who were recognized at the 6th Annual Alumni Beer Garden, held in Dominican Courtyard prior to the varsity football game on October 19. In all, 94 people attended the event.
“We couldn’t be in our sixth year of the Alumni Beer Garden without the awesome response from alums. We host events like this to show appreciation for O’Dowd alumni, so it’s wonderful how many have embraced this tradition. And it was such a pleasure to have Coach Jan Hagan back on campus! In fact, it was fantastic to have so many incredible swim and water polo coaches and alumni back at O’Dowd,” Director of Alumni Engagement & Philanthropy LizaDawn Aduviso said.
Event attendee Kelly Cronin ’80 said the Alumni Beer Garden is always a fun evening. “From the minute we drive through the gate, we receive a warm welcome from the security guards. Then, we are greeted with friendly smiles from current families. The setting is beautiful. Connecting with alumni and seeing familiar faces makes it a night to remember. Katie (Durkin Cronin ’80) feels blessed that we went to O’Dowd and is thankful that both of our kids (Connor ’09 and Emma ’13) had the opportunity to attend the school as well. O’Dowd has a special place in our hearts,” he said.
Schmit said her O’Dowd coaching experience was pivotal in many ways. “There were a number of young athletes that I felt invested in as they developed as players and people. I am incredibly fortunate that no matter how much time passes that bond remains. It was those relationships, and my time at O’Dowd, that gave me the courage to take on the next step and coach at the collegiate level,” she said.
Math teacher Dennis Dougherty coached swimming from 1980-1999, starting a separate girl's team in 1982 when the North Coast Section combined the boy's and girl's seasons. “In that first year we had an NCS champion – Mitsi Fukushima in the 50-yard free, and in 1995 the girl's team captured the NCS championship,” he said.
The keeper of years of swimming statistics, Dougherty noted that from 1980-2005 the boy's team won eight league championships and finished second 16 times, and the girl's team won 15 league championships and finished second seven times.
In addition, the swimming program has had 17 individual All-Americans, 35 relay All-Americans, and 74 academic All-Americans.
Dougherty also helped start the water polo program in 1995, when it became an NCS sport for both boys and girls and helped coach the teams through the fall of 1999.
“Our teams became competitive right away, reaching the league championship games in the second year of competition. The girls won their first league title in 1997 under coach Judy Seri,” he said.
Jan Hagan coached swimming from 1976 to 1978 and then came back to coach from 1985 to 1986. There weren’t very many women swim coaches on the deck in those days,” she said.
“We had great kids. One year I had 21 boys on the team and six of them were named Mike. I would holler ‘Mike!’ and practice would just stop,” she said.
“We won the Catholic Athletic League championship in 1976, 1977 and 1978. Bob Gerstenberger ’78, Jim Pursiano ’78, and Mike Matta ’76 (who attended the event) were on those teams,” she said.
Gerstenberger and Pursiano said Hagan taught them to swim when they participated in a swim league in Castro Valley as youngsters and then became the O’Dowd swim coach their junior year of high school.
The pair recalled early morning practices at Bayo Vista Swim Club when clouds of steam rose from the water and you couldn’t see the other end of the pool. “Sometimes you could get out of a few laps,” Pursiano said with a smile.
Gerstenberger said in those days, swimmers sometimes didn’t wear goggles and pool maintenance wasn’t sophisticated enough to maintain proper chemical levels, so swimmers would come to school after morning workouts with bloodshot eyes – arousing faculty and staff suspicion that they had been partaking in not so healthy before school activity.
Chris Ardoin ’05 swam all four years of high school, hitting the pool directly after basketball season concluded. He enjoyed the camaraderie developed when the team traveled for away meets such as San Diego. “I was able to get to know the other swimmers not only as teammates but lifelong friends,” he said.
Ardoin’s most memorable swim team experience was being a part of the first place 400-yard freestyle relay team (along with Tim Beck ’06, Uriah Buscovich ’05, and Darren Pagen ’06) his senior year, which propelled the men’s team to the league championship.
“We were down to Castro Valley going into that race and by winning we beat them by just a couple points to win the ship. Huge moment and a great meet overall,” he said.
Kate Mahoney ’06 still has vivid memories from both swimming and water polo. “Winning the league championship in the 100-yard butterfly my senior year is probably the best memory I have from swimming. I remember hearing all of my teammates and coaches cheering so loud for me. When I hit the wall I immediately looked over to the coaches, Laurie Thirion and Matt Wharton, and saw the excitement on their faces and I knew I had won the race,” she said.
A goalie in water polo, Mahoney was on league championship teams in both her junior and senior years. “We lost in the championship game my sophomore year and to come back and win it back-to-back those two years showed the resilience of our team. After we won the coaches were so excited that they jumped in the pool,” she recalled.
“I could never forget the killer goalie leg sets that Coach Emily would put me through for water polo. Throwing heaving med balls and holding jugs of water over my head until they were emptied. I hated them at the time but they helped me through those long tough games!” Mahoney said.
Some of Mahoney’s favorite water polo memories are from the Sierra Shootout in Rocklin. “We were always very successful at the tournament and it was a great team bonding experience. Between team dinners, the van rides up and back, and go-karting there are so many fun memories that my former teammates and I still talk about today,” she said.
Cara Conley ’10 was a member of the water polo and swimming teams during her four years at O’Dowd, contributing to three league championships in water polo and advancing with her teammates to the North Coast Section playoffs six of eight seasons for both sports combined. As a senior, she was named a USA Water Polo Academic All-American.
Conley later returned to O’Dowd to coach water polo for four years. “It was a great way to stay connected and involved in a program I really enjoyed,” she said.
“Some of my favorite memories were the weekend trips for meets and tournaments. The trips always allowed for the team to bond and create an enhanced sense of teamwork,” she said.