By Samantha Thompson
City on a Hill Press Co-Editor in Chief
It wasn’t long after graduation last spring that Grant Shubin found himself back at his old stomping grounds at the UC Santa Cruz pool. The All-American and two-time former captain of the school’s water polo team returned to the squad this fall, but traded in his yellow Speedo for a coach’s polo shirt and clipboard.
After getting cut in the spring and then reinstated in August, the men’s water polo team found itself without coach Danielle Mulford, who had made plans once the team was cut that would take her away for the majority of the men’s season.
That’s when Shubin stepped in.
The team couldn’t have been happier to have Shubin as the new coach, but many players had to get used to looking up and seeing him standing outside the pool when for their entire collegiate careers, he swam alongside them.
“All the guys I coached were my best friends for four years, so getting the role of authority and having them do what I say was a little bit bizarre, but it couldn’t have been an easier transition,” Shubin said. “Maybe the most difficult part was if we had a bad weekend or a bad tournament, they could go hang with each other and laugh it off and I just had to go home and would drive my girlfriend crazy.”
Sophomore Connor Huff played with Shubin for a year before he rejoined as head coach.
“At first it was really weird because we were all really good friends,” Huff said. “But he ended up being one of best coaches I’ve had.”
Despite a losing record, going 7-21 overall against the top teams in the country, players were satisfied with the improvements made by the end of the season, much of which has been attributed to Shubin’s efforts as coach.
“At the beginning of the season, we were really disjointed,” Huff said. “But by the end, we looked really good and you could see that at the conference tournament where we finally won a game.”
The tournament, held in Claremont at the end of November, was the last stop in the Slugs’ run as an NCAA team. In their final game, Shubin coached them to a 10-6 win over Chapman, closing out the season — and the program’s varsity history — on a high note.
“It was great. It made up for every other loss we had,” captain junior Brian Fischl said. “We played really well, we finally put all the pieces together. Everybody was really pumped up to play. You could even tell in the pool.”
With that last win came the end of NCAA men’s water polo and the end of Shubin’s stint as coach. Now the team and Shubin are both moving on to new opportunities.
The water polo program is currently fighting for the possibility of reinstatement, though that flame of hope has started to dim.
“We don’t want to accept this is our last NCAA season,” assistant coach Alan Cima said. “[But] the players were grateful that [they were given] the opportunity to continue for another year and we’d like to continue on after this. Even in a losing season, the guys were just happy to keep playing.”
After months of pleading to everyone from the chancellor to the regents for reinstatement, the team will now look into the possibility of playing competitively in a club league for next year. Many of the players will also be on the sidelines to cheer on the women’s team, as it too will be playing in its last NCAA season.
And as for Shubin, he’ll be leaving the pool behind to pursue a job in the professional world, and will continue to look back on his water polo days as some of the best times he had in college.
“I’m hyper-competitive by nature,” Shubin said. “And I’ll just miss being an athlete and striving for that competitive goal.”
While he hopes to play in the occasional water polo tournament in the future, Shubin is primarily looking into pursuing law school, a goal he’s had his sights on for years, but one that was put on the back burner in order to dedicate his time to coaching the team.
“I don’t want to make [coaching] my career,” Shubin said, “but this [opportunity] was worth it. I would love to coach again, but this was a unique situation for me. For now, there are other projects that I want to pursue in my life.”