Among the first tasks as new Michigan water polo head coach, Dr. Marcelo Leonardi named fellow Californian Caitlin Haskell as his assistant coach. He had coached against her during her playing career at UC Irvine and coached alongside her as part of the Olympic Development Program.
In addition to her work with the ODP, where she rose to the position of SOPAC Zone assistant coach and was selected to be the assistant coach for the USA National Development Team, Haskell spent three years with SoCal Water Polo, largely considered among the finest clubs in the country, working as youth girls co-head coach. As a collegiate player at UCI (2008-11), Haskell garnered 2011 ACWPC All-America honorable mention and was a two-time Big West All-Conference second team selection (2010, '11).
With the 2014-15 school year set to commence next week, Haskell took some time to talk about her attraction to Michigan, her young coaching career and her excitement to learn from and grow with Leonardi.
Q: What were some of the biggest attractions to the program and opportunity here at Michigan?
A: There were a few different factors. First and foremost, it was Marcelo. I have previously worked with him in clinic settings, and I respect him wholeheartedly -- as a human being and as a coach. When I was offered the opportunity to work alongside him, it was a simple answer for me. Secondly, when you look at Michigan across the board, there's no other university like it from an academic and athletic standpoint. That was something I really gravitated toward.
Q: It's a huge change from what you're used to in southern California. Are you looking forward to experiencing new things out here?
A: Definitely. Change is good; it keeps things fresh. Since I was young, I've been pretty accepting of change, and I think I can acclimate pretty quickly. I know the climate change is going to happen; bring it on. Everyone ask me if I'm ready for the weather. Am I ready? I don't know. I know I'm going to be at this great pool most of the day. So, I'm excited. I'm ready for this new challenge and to work with a great DI program. I think my whole career to this point has prepped me for this, and I'm ready to put on the new hat and get going to work with these athletes.
Q: What are some of the experiences that you've had in coaching that have prepped you for this?
A: My position with SoCal was amazing, and I got to work alongside some fantastic coaches. Ed Reynolds is one of the best fundamental coaches in southern California. Working with him really helped me with my base for coaching -- being able to teach fundamentals, being able to get young, raw talent to jump into your pool and working closely with them. I think that experience will correlate with what I'm doing here. Regardless of where they come from, I think I'll be able to work well with them, because of that background with the youngest, rawest form. I think what has helped me the most is my experience with the Olympic Development Program, which is where I first initially worked with Marcelo. You get the best athletes in the nation -- top 28 in the 14-under age group. To get to that 28, you start from a pool of all these interested athletes, upwards of 150-plus athletes that you're evaluating and paring down. That process correlates directly to recruiting for a school like Michigan. I need to find athletes that fit our profile here, and that experience with the development team is great preparation.
Q: Obviously, with your and Marcelo's background, you'll continue to recruit California. In making the recent move to Michigan yourself, do you think you'll be in a unique position to sell the program to fellow Californians?
A: Hey, it's something new. If you're born and raised in California, go out and try something else. It's college. It's 4-5 years of your life. Spread your wings. All these mothers will hate me for saying it. But why not? For something as fantastic at the University of Michigan and the program here, why not just completely surround yourself with that college environment and community. You won't find a school like this in California.
Q: You're still pretty young in your coaching career. How did you get involved in coaching?
A: My career as an athlete completely fuels my passion for coaching. I played for Dan Klatt at UC Irvine, and like me, Klatt is from central California. So, he really knew how to coach me and knew he was getting a player that didn't have a lot of high-level background. He just completely introduced me to the sport, and I took on his passion and love for it. What I received from him as an athlete, I wanted to give the same to anyone who crossed my path. That was my mentality as a teammate. I wanted to make sure all my younger teammates were getting that same feeling from me. As soon as I finished my last year at UCI, I wanted to step into a coaching position and have that same relationship with younger athletes. I got so into working with young athletes, seventh and eighth graders, and became so addicted to loving them as human beings and working with them as they aged through our youth program at SoCal.
Q: So, clearly you've played under and worked with phenomenal coaches. Are you looking forward to growing even more working closer with Marcelo?
A: Of course. It's going to expand my knowledge and experience. He brings something a little different than other coaches I've worked with. I'll be working with him as a colleague and developing a program with him. That's something new for me. I'm very excited to soak up what he has to offer and go from there.
Q: In your short time here in Ann Arbor, what's your favorite spot in Ann Arbor so far?
A: You can't beat downtown Ann Arbor. There are such a diverse groups of people walking around, the shops, the food. It's incredible. I could see myself regularly sitting down and taking it all in and never getting sick of it.