ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Navy host Breanna Sorensen interviews United States Naval Academy head coach Luis Nicolao on being inducted into the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Hall of Fame, how he’s staying in touch with the team during the Coronavirus outbreak and more.
A 1992 Navy alum, Nicolao will be inducted into the Hall of Fame during the 2020 Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Water Polo Conference (MAWPC) Championship weekend. Navy will host the MAWPC Championship on Friday-Sunday, November 20-22, at Lejeune Hall in Annapolis, Md., barring a postponement brought on by the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.
The second Navy water polo athlete to make the Hall of Fame joining current Midshipmen assistant coach Tom Popp (2008), Nicolao is the third USNA affiliated individual to join the group and the second head coach following former United States Naval Academy head coach Mike Schofield (2014). Further, his selection puts both a former (Schofield) and the current (Nicolao) head coaches of the Midshipmen along with one of the team’s assistant coaches (Popp) in the HOF.
His selection is based exclusively on Nicolao’s playing career at the Naval Academy, although his coaching career at both Princeton University and Navy are Hall-of-Fame worthy in their own right.
As a student-athlete at Navy, Nicolao was a three-time All-America (Third Team – 1990, 1991; Honorable Mention – 1989) and All-East (First Team – 1989, 1990, 1991) selection for the Midshipmen, graduating as the school’s all-time leader in points (377) and goals scored (282) along with rating sixth in assists (95). During the course of his career, Navy won two Eastern Championships (1988, 1990) and reached the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championship Tournament on three occasions (1988, 1990, 1991). He was named the CWPA Eastern MVP in both 1990 and 1991, while earning CWPA First-Team All-East accolades for three straight seasons (1989, 1990, 1991). In addition, Nicolao served as the team captain as a senior during a 1991 season capped off by claiming NCAA Championship All-Tournament Second Team laurels prior to graduating in the Spring of 1992.
His 95 goals in 1990 and 81 goals in 1991 are second and seventh, respectively, on Navy’s single season list, while his 118 points in 1990 and 114 points in 1991 are fourth and fifth, respectively, all-time for a single year in Midshipmen history.
“Luis was our right-handed version of Slippery Rock’s Frank Mulcrone (coached by the great Dr. Richard Hunkler) during their collegiate days,” recalls Schofield. “Both guys were so fast and anticipated change of possession so well that opponents needed to change their offensive approach to try and minimize the one on nobody fast break, because once you get behind, you’re not gonna catch ’em.”
“Luis was also super strong, despite the fact that he was “just pushing six feet” as he liked to claim.”
After earning the Naval Academy Athletic Association’s Sword for Men as the top graduating male athlete in 1992, Nicolao assisted with the Navy water polo program as a temporary assigned duty (TAD). He was also a member of the U.S. National Team that won the gold medal at the World University Games in 1993 before serving in the Navy for five years.
Nicolao returned to his alma mater’s pool in 1996 as an officer representative prior to accepting the head coaching position at Princeton in 1998. He also served as the U.S. men’s national “B” team assistant coach (1998, 1999).
During a 20-year tenure with the Tigers prior to taking command of the Naval Academy in January 2018, he posted a combined 868-316 (.733) record. Under his tutelage, the men’s team held a 402-163 (.712) overall mark, while the women amassed a 466-153 (.753) ledger.
Nicolao, the 2004 Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches (ACWPC) Men’s National Coach of the Year, posted five CWPA Eastern Coach of the Year awards split between the men and the women (Men: 2004, 2009, 2011; Women: 2001, 2007) and has garnered Southern Coach of the Year honors on seven occasions (Men: 2001, 2003, 2008; Women: 2001, 2005, 2006, 2013).
He directed the Princeton men to nine Southern titles (1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015), four CWPA/Eastern crowns (2004, 2009, 2011, 2015) and made four NCAA Tournament appearances (2004, 2009, 2011, 2015). The women notched nine Southern titles (1999, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014), four CWPA/Eastern crowns (2000, 2012, 2013, 2015) and three NCAA berths (2012, 2013, 2015).
Collectively, Nicolao coached 29 Princeton student-athletes to a combined 65 All-America accolades with 15 men’s team members collecting 34 All-America honors and 14 women tallying 31 All-America distinctions. In addition, he oversaw eight men’s water polo players who earned CWPA Southern Player of the Year honors and a pair of CWPA Rookies of the Year.
On the women’s side, Nicolao coached six different student-athletes to a total of 12 CWPA Southern Player of the Year accolades with an additional two players claiming rookie of the year laurels. His most notable women’s athlete at Princeton was goalie Ashleigh Johnson, the 2017 Cutino Award recipient, the 2016 Olympic Games Most Valuable Player and an Olympic Gold Medalist for the United States.
Since returning to Navy in January 2018, Nicolao has overseen a rehauling of the Midshipmen as the team has recorded 15-14 and 16-13 marks in 2018 and 2019, respectively. For his inaugural efforts in 2018, he was recognized by his peers with the MAWPC-East Region Coach of the Year award.
During his two years at the helm of Navy, five players have garnered MAWPC-East honors with Isaac Salinas taking home ACWPC All-America Honorable Mention status in 2019. Salinas’ selection marked the first All-America nod for the program since 2015.
Nicolao earned a Master’s Degree in adult education from the University of Phoenix. He and his wife, Kellie, have two daughters, Madison and Morgan.