Dear Polo Fans:
The examination of a singular moment in Eastern water polo history—originally suggested by Scott Schulte and Mike Schofield—led to a deep dive (for me) about Puerto Rican involvement in NCAA men’s polo over the last four decades. This is perhaps not a new story—there have been waves of players from the island who have contributed significantly to the success of American collegiate teams—but the backstory of the Pitt program, which from 1975 – 78 was a top contender for Eastern honors, is particularly noteworthy due to Head Coach Miguel Rivera’s efforts of to engineer Panther success.
From what appeared to be a humble beginning—Bucknell’s 21-20 win over Pitt in what essentially was the Eastern final—emerged a far-more detailed story, one that reflects the many waves of Puerto Rican players coming to the mainland, specifically West Valley College in California and UMass in Massachusetts.
Following are the list of stories related to the central piece, which is about the November 13th, 1977 the Eastern Water Polo League (EWPL) Southern Division Championship match, where Bucknell rallied from two goals down with 18 seconds left to send the match into overtime:
Scott Schulte, who played a major role in the match and ended up the NCAA all-time leading goal scorer, spoke w/Swimming World.
Jorge Machicote, arguably the best player on the Pitt 1977 team, spoke with Swimming World about his journey from Puerto Rico to Pittsburgh and back.
Jay Fisette, the Bucknell co-captain who in 1977 scored the tying goal in regulation for Bucknell, then in 1978 coached Pitt against his former team, spoke with Total Water Polo.
Miguel Rivera, the coach who built Pittsburgh into an instant winner due to an influx of talented players from Puerto Rico, spoke with Water Polo Plant.
Willo Rodriguez, current head coach for the Puerto Rican national team, spoke with Swimming World about his past as a junior national team player and the sport’s future—both on the island and the mainland:
Most importantly, Water Polo Planet has put up a message board topic about Puerto Rican water polo players in general and the 1977 game in particular. All are welcome to contribute their thoughts.
There have been many folks who made time for interviews or assisted with background information on the games, the teams and the times. My thanks to them for their invaluable contribution to what has been an extremely rewarding endeavor. Following are some of the many people who helped make this project possible.
Chip Brenner; copy editor
James Smith; editor, Totalwaterpolo.com
Nikola Malezanov; publisher, Water Polo Planet; head coach, Washington & Jefferson men’s and women’s program
Jim Staresinic; publisher, Water Polo Planet; head coach, University of Pittsburgh women’s team
Craig Lord, Editor-in-Chief, Swimming World
Brent Rutemiller, Publisher, Swimming World, Executive Director, International Swimming Hall of Fame
Ed Haas; Director of Communications, Collegiate Water Polo Association
Paul Barren; former referee and high school water polo coach; CWPA Hall of Fame member
Jay Fisette; co-captain, 1977 Bucknell men’s team; head coach, 1978 Pitt Panthers
Barry Ford; member, 1977 Pitt Panther men’s team
Mark Gensheimer; member, 1977 Bucknell men’s team; CWPA Hall of Fame member
Mike Graff; head coach, Pittsburgh Renegades; board chair, USA Water Polo
Manfredo Lespier, former player, Puerto Rican national team; UC Irvine water polo
Jorge Machicote; member, Pitt Panther men’s team; former player, Puerto Rican national team
Rick Renner; co-captain, 1977 Bucknell men’s team
Miguel Rivera; former head coach, Pitt Panther men’s team; former player, Puerto Rican national team
Willo Rodriguez; current head coach, Puerto Rican men’s national team; head coach, West Valley College
Papo Ruiz; member, 1977 Pitt Panther men’s team
Mike Schofield; member, Pitt Panther men’s team; former coach, Navy men’s team, CWPA Hall of Fame member
Scott Schulte; member, 1977 Bucknell Bison men’s team; CWPA Hall of Fame member; USAWP Hall of Fame member
Mark Sickle; former Bucknell men’s team member (class of 1976)
Carlos Steffens; former player, Puerto Rican national team; three-time All-American at Cal-Berkeley
Luis Toro; member, Pitt Panther men’s team; former player, Puerto Rican national team
My heartfelt thanks to them all; this project has been deeply rewarding, particularly in a time when there’s so much sadness and frustration due to the coronavirus crisis.
If you enjoyed this piece / my work, please consider contributing to the following entities:
Swimming World—become one of the ISHOF’s “One in a Thousand” contributors
Total Water Polo—contribute to supporting free water polo content here
Water Polo Planet—buy a shirt to subsidize costs for one of the world’s most vibrant online polo forums