by Christian Estrada
With all of Bosco’s big sports glory, do not be surprised that an Olympian walks among Braves. Head water polo coach Jeff Powers was inducted into the USA Water Polo Hall Of Fame this past Summer, yet another big athletic splash in the Brave community.
Mr. Powers was born January 21, 1980 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but went to San Luis Obispo High School and played basketball, soccer, baseball, swimming and water polo.
He started water polo in high school, however, he did not take the traditional route. While Coach Powers understands the importance of hard work in a sport, he believes it is best for an athlete to participate in multiple sports.
“I am a big fan of [athletes] playing multiple sports and just having fun year around, and if you are an athlete you will be fine, it allows you to build character. Once you get to high school then you can start singling out and focusing on one sport. But until then, I say play all the sports that you can. I think you will be a better athlete, and lower your chance of injuries,” said Coach Powers.
While Coach Powers became known for his success in water polo, he did not always have the intentions of playing in high school. This all changed when one day the water polo coach at San Luis Obispo High School heard that he was an incredible swimmer and a prolific athlete in school, asked him to try out for the San Luis Obispo Water Polo team. Coach Jeff Powers indeed tried out and loved it.
“It was kind of a mix of all the sports that I already played plus the water, so I loved it,” said Coach Powers.
He said that all the other sports that he played helped him develop the skills he would use in water polo and being a highly competitive swimmer was also a huge help when getting in the water. Coach Powers believes it was this swimming ability that gave him an edge over other people on the team.
“A lot of people if they’ve never been in the water before, they have problems with it because it’s different. Everyone walks on land but not everyone is used to the water, but since I was a swimmer, I was already good at swimming.”
After his four years of high school at San Luis Obispo High School he attended the University of California at Irvine playing 5 years of water polo and red-shirted his last year; majoring in Political Science with an emphasis in public law. He loved living in the dorms at UCI but later moved into Newport. The head coach at the time for the UC Irvine Water Polo Team was notorious for his work ethic, training at least 6 hours daily (excluding practice with the National Team). He graduated from UC-Irvine in 2003. Year-round training often would be two and a half hours in the morning before class; another two and a half hours of practice after class for a total of five to six hours.
Two good memories he had his freshman year was winning a major tournament with all the best teams, the Northern California Tournament. His junior year he won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) league, winning the regular season. In that tournament, they beat teams like USC, UCLA, UC Berkeley, and Stanford. Coach Powers would later get to play with several teammates on the UCI Water Polo Team, play with him on the USA Water Polo Team.
While at UCI he was a very industrious student-athlete scheduling his day to be consumed primarily by academics, athletics, and preparations for the next days of practice and games to come. He believes his coach helped prepare him for this rigorous schedule, but some of his fellow teammates did not fare as well.
“Coach prepared us well in a way that we all knew how to grind, but there were some who fell off to the wayside. Some guys couldn’t handle the pressure,” said Coach Powers.
According to Coach Powers, they were not prepared mentally, and they could not take the hours and the work and how mentally tiring it is to be in that program.
“You did not want to see them go but you knew that guys gonna go he could not handle it. You could tell whos got it and who does not [physically and mentally], hard work plus talent,” said Coach Powers.
During his freshman year there, he did not handle his schoolwork too well with his grades beginning to slip. It just took a plan, and after some time, he was able to have a balanced schedule. He said that his secret to figuring it out was literally sitting down and physically writing out a personalized schedule. This allowed him to stay on top of his work and have the mindset that nothing was being sacrificed.
“People always ask me what was your biggest sacrifice. I didn’t have to sacrifice anything, a sacrifice is something you don’t want to do, but you’re still willing to do it. You must be willing to put the time in,” said Coach Powers.
During his freshman year at UCI, Powers was one of the select few to receive an email to train with the USA Olympic Water Polo Team. He enjoyed the opportunity, but understood the extra work that was required.
He was just practicing with the National Team his freshman year because he was not quite prepared, but by his junior year at UCI, he would be ready with the tools and have his skills to compete at the next level.
He was a part of the USA Water Polo 2004 training group, where Coach Powers described his time on the team as “fun but brutal.”
At Irvine, the team would train for five to six hours regularly. However, the time only increased when he went to the National Team training, as he would continue to train with his college team simultaneously. Coach Powers knew his goal was always to make the Olympic team eventually.
“I wanted to be a part of the Olympic team. It is something that I wanted. I wasn’t sacrificing anything, and I made it happen,” said Coach Powers.
He understood that this goal would come with missing out on things his peers would be a part of, but his goal of being an Olympian was too strong to hold him back.
“Did I miss out on some things? Maybe, but like parties and things like that. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be an Olympian, so I made my schedule around that,” said Coach Powers.
It was definitely a privilege to be on the Olympic team and on UC Irvine’s team. Nowadays, they are not as good as they were when he played. He did not say it was because of him, but when he did play, they were constantly top four in the nation.
“I helped out a little bit. It was a great school to go to for water polo and for education,” said Coach Powers.
Even with this busy schedule, he found time to have some fun too. He enjoyed low energy activities, such as going to the movies. But most of his free time was spent just preparing for the next day.
He ate a massive amounts of food. He ate everything and anything he could get his hands on, trying to make it healthy, but at some point, he would just try to get calories in his body. He made it to three Olympics, which included 2004, 2008, and 2012, and won the silver medal in 2008. Coach Powers will always be honored by these awards and recognition, as well as his new Hall of Fame status, but believes that the bonds he made and his love of the game is why he played.
“Being in the hall of fame makes me feel nice, but it’s not the reason why I started playing the sport. It is nice to be recognized for achievements and things like that. It was kind of cool that I got inducted with a couple of my teammates from Irvine,” said Coach Powers. “But at the time we were playing, it was not the reason we played.”