Rich Corso named to Water Polo Hall of Fame

Nick Settelmayer

Former Harvard-Westlake Head Water Polo coach Rich Corso was voted into the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame on April 9, and his induction ceremony will be May 30 in Costa Mesa, near USA Water Polo’s Headquarters in Huntington Beach.
During Corso’s 20-year tenure at Harvard-Westlake, his teams won two CIF championships, were runners up seven times, and finished in the semifinals five times. Corso coached the 1992-96 USA Men’s National Team, leading them to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and to a gold medal in the 1995 Pan-American Games. Before that, Corso coached the Canadian Men’s National Team to a gold medal in the 1991 Pan-American Games, and coached the USA National Junior Team from 1984 to 1988.
Corso left Harvard-Westlake in 2005 to coach women’s water polo at the University of California, Berkeley.
“I’m still in shock to be quite honest,” Corso said. “I guess it hasn’t hit yet, and, and it’s probably because I’m in the middle of a championship season at Berkeley, but you know the reason why I believe that this honor has come to me is because the great mentors that I’ve had.”
Cal Berkeley, which hadn’t even been in the NCAA Playoffs before his arrival, has made the postseason each year since 2010. As of press time, Cal is ranked fourth in the nation, and has a win over first-ranked Stanford University, a far cry from the team he inherited when he went to Cal.
“When I was at Harvard, it took a few years to change the culture,” Corso said. “It took two or three years to change the culture as far as sports/academics, and then at Cal, it took six years. But once you get those kids who are committed to academic excellence, and becoming great players and playing on great teams, it’s the same.”
As a coach who has worked at schools that offer both rigorous curriculums and rigorous athletic programs, Corso understands how much work it takes to balance academics and athletics. Still, Corso believes that the best players should be able to handle that.
“You know that we [Harvard-Westlake] were going to train hard and try and play the best people in the country every year,” Corso said. “But at the same time, they had to balance that with their studies. It wasn’t a secret after my second year, that if you’re going to be on the water polo team, that this is what it takes.”
Whether or not the team that Corso coaches each year is elite or not, he goes into each season wanting his players to have the same mindset to always push themselves beyond their limits, he said.
“The biggest thing that I was always trying to accomplish at Harvard was to get kids to overachieve, and our goal every year was to work harder and be smarter than anybody that we played against,” Corso said. “I think it’s just balance, you know? Kids that came out and played polo knew what they were getting themselves into.”
Even after changing the culture of two programs and working his way into the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame, Corso is still amazed at his accomplishments.
However, the most important thing to Corso is his love for the game.
“If you don’t consider yourself a teacher, then you’re not going to be a good coach,” Corso said. “So every day I used to look forward to practice, it was the best part of the day. It was a part of the day, where it was a great break from academics, because this is the thing about Harvard-Westlake, everybody is serious. When you go to one class, when you go to your French class, everyone is serious. When you go to your math class, everyone is serious. Nobody is taking it easy, but everyday at practice I enjoyed.”
Corso said when he started at Harvard-Westlake in 1985, the program needed improvement.
“Winning our first CIF championship for the school was really gratifying, because when I got there, they were really, really bad,” Corso said. “They had a program but we were one of the worst teams in California. So having a bunch of kids coming together, and they had never won anything before, that was just so exciting.”