It’s been 10 years since Dante Dettamanti retired as head water polo coach from Stanford University. But, except for the year off he took driving his RV around the country, he’s seldom been away from the game. This year finds him coaching the boys’ team at Menlo-Atherton High School, taking over from good friend Marco Palazzo, now an assistant with the U.S. Olympic team.
“M-A was stuck without a coach and I’d gotten to know the guys on the team when helping out Marco last year,” he explains. “I like this team. I think we’re going to be in the top four in CCS Division 1, even with a tough schedule. To be the best, you have to play the best.”
Dante has earned accolades wherever he’s landed. As a graduate assistant to UCLA’s legendary coach Bob Horn in 1969, the school won the first ever NCAA Championship held. He turned around programs at Occidental College and UC Santa Barbara, before landing at Stanford where he coached 25 years. There he produced eight NCAA Championships and two undefeated seasons. After he retired from Stanford, he coached at Sacred Heart Prep in Atherton. He’s also put the wisdom he’s accumulated over the years into three books — two for coaches and one for players.
“I enjoy coaching — the strategy, the tactics, teaching the game the right way,” he says. “And I think I’ve gotten better as a coach over the years.”
M-A has long been known as a strong water polo school. In one glory period during the 60s, coach Bob Gaughran won championships six years in a row with players such as Olympian Dick Roth. That is, of course, ancient history to today’s players, and Dante says the challenges are different as well.
“What’s happening now is that the public schools lack funding for the sport and coaching and the private schools can get players from anywhere,” he says. “So the talent is spread out. It’s the Booster Club who funds M-A’s program.
“Plus, while we’ve always gotten swimmers to play water polo and still do, there is more competition from other sports. It used to be just football, and now there’s club soccer and even ultimate Frisbee.”
Dante maintains this is a one-year commitment until M-A can find a permanent coach. But when the season comes to an end, his coaching won’t. He’s off to New Zealand in January to coach the Marnui, a Wellington-based water polo club.