Pacific men’s water polo scores big move to West Coast Conference

Water polo action

Pacific Coach James Graham

University of the Pacific’s national powerhouse men’s water polo program is taking a big leap forward as the West Coast Conference announced the addition of the sport beginning with the Fall 2023 season.

Men’s water polo is an iconic sport at Pacific, often referred to as “Water Polo U.” The Tigers were national runner-up in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, which was hosted on the Stockton Campus. Pacific also advanced to the final game in the 2013 championship, losing a double-overtime contest to USC. 

Pacific, Pepperdine and San Jose State will join the WCC from the Golden Coast Conference. Air Force, California Baptist, Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara will move from the Western Water Polo Association. All seven teams were ranked in the Top 25 nationally last season.

“Game changing would be an understatement,” said Pacific Head Coach James Graham. “This is monumental for not only Pacific men’s water polo, but collegiate water polo as well. To be able to have the WCC as an official men’s water polo conference is absolutely huge.”

Graham praised Director of Athletics Janet Lucas, Deputy Director of Athletics/Chief Operating Officer Wes Yourth and Pacific President Christopher Callahan for leading the effort to bring water polo to the WCC.

“We have a reputation here at University of the Pacific of being called Water Polo U, and the formation of the WCC men’s water polo conference is another great example,” Graham said. “Having a president that attends every home game and has been a driving force behind the formation of this conference is amazing.”

Callahan said the entire Pacific community takes “great pride in our rich water polo traditions.”

“We have the best coach in the nation and some of the very best players in the world,” the president said. “We are thrilled that water polo will now be in our primary athletic conference and we are looking forward to hosting our rival WCC teams.” Pacific competes at the Chris Kjeldsen Pool at the Douglass M. Eberhardt Aquatics Center.

Based on the final 2021 national rankings, the WCC will be one of the top conferences in the country. Pacific finished No. 7 in the final rankings. Fellow WCC members Pepperdine (ranked No. 10), Loyola Marymount (No. 14) and Santa Clara (No. 23) also were in the Top 25 nationally. The WCC also added three strong associate programs in San Jose State (No. 9), California Baptist (No. 13) and Air Force (No. 21).

“This has the potential of not only being the strongest conference in the country, but hopefully the other WCC schools without men’s water polo will consider adding men’s and women’s water polo programs now,” Graham said.

Lucas called the WCC the “perfect home” for water polo. 

“The stability that the WCC will provide these teams and the sport of men’s water polo will broaden the national exposure and stature of the sport,” Lucas said. “We have appreciated the support and opportunity offered through the Golden Coast Conference and we truly look forward to winning WCC championships along the path to winning a national championship.”

WCC Commissioner Gloria Nevarez said the expansion of water polo to the conference will “ensure the stability of the sport in the western region.”

In the past eight years, Pacific has a cumulative 41-2 record against the programs that will be joining the WCC.

“That hasn’t been easy to accomplish and there have been a lot of close games,” Graham said. “We know joining the WCC is going to be extremely competitive but feel that we are in a great position to be successful. We are excited to compete in this conference, represent the WCC and try to win a championship.”

Sophomore student-athlete Reuel D’Souza said the move provides a “great opportunity” for the Tigers. 

“It’s always exciting to have a change, especially in conference opponents, but wherever we play our goals remain the same: to win a conference championship and to win a national championship,” he said. “This conference will be extremely competitive, and we believe it will provide us many chances on the road to a national championship.”

Starting with the 2023-24 academic year, the WCC will host 16 sports (nine women’s teams, and seven men’s teams). Men’s water polo is the first sport added since beach volleyball in 2015, with competition beginning in spring 2016.