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IRVINE, Calif. — Princeton University women’s head coach/assistant men’s coach Derek Ellingson, former Michigan State University men’s collegiate club head coach Laszlo Hruza, official Aleks Mitrevski and Portland State University women’s club alumna Courtney Bird were honored with 2023 USA Water Polo National Awards.

Derek Ellingson – Sandy Nitta Distinguished Coaching National Award Winner (Women’s Elite)
Derek Ellingson is in his fifth season as head coach of the women’s water polo program in 2024. He will begin his 19th season working with the Tigers’ men’s water polo program in the fall of 2024. Prior to joining the Princeton staff in the summer of 2004, Ellingson spent five years coaching at his alma mater, Queens College, first as an assistant and then as the men’s and women’s head coach. In the spring of 2023, the women’s team won its conference title for the first time since 2015 with a 12-8 victory over Harvard University. The Tigers finished 30-4 overall, becoming just the third team in program history to record at least 30 victories (2014, 2015). Princeton reached the national semifinals for the first time ever and became the first non-West Coast team to get to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) semifinals since 2016. The Tigers also had four All-America selections in Jovana Sekulic, Lindsey Lucas, Kayla Yelensky, and Laura Larkin for the first time in Princeton history. The men’s 2022 season saw the team set program records with four All-America selections in Roko Pozaric, Keller Maloney, Antonio Knez, and Vladan Mitrovic while picking up 27 wins. It was the first time that the program had reached the NCAA quarterfinals in consecutive years following its victory over Fordham University. The team’s historical season included highlights such as defeating Stanford for the first time in program history and becoming NWPC Conference Champions for the second straight season.

In his career, Ellingson has been a part of 13 NCAA tournament teams, helping Queens to the tournament in 1997 as a player and taking the Knights back to the tournament in 2002 as head coach. At Princeton, he helped the Tiger men to the 2004, 2009, 2011, 2015, 2018, 2021, and 2022 NCAA tournaments. Also assisting with the women’s side prior to be named head coach, he helped lead the Tigers to nationals in 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2023. During his tenure in orange and black, Ellingson has helped lead Princeton to a total of 12 Southern titles (six for the women – 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014 and six for the men – 2004, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015), and seven Eastern crowns (four for the men – 2004, 2009, 2011, 2015 and three for the women – 2012, 2013, 2015).

Laszlo Hruza – Doc Hunkler Distinguished Coaching National Award Winner (Women’s Scholastic)
Laszlo Hruza has spent the last seven years as the Director of Water Polo at New Trier Aquatics after the local swim and water polo clubs merged and he was offered the position in 2017. In just a few short years, the program became nationally recognized by winning in major tournaments while developing several collegiate varsity athletes and state MVPs. Additionally, Hruza coached on four different continents: Europe, Asia (China), Australia, and North America. In the United States, he won the National Collegiate Club National Championship with Michigan State University’s men’s team in 2008. He also worked with Arizona State University’s women’s program along with many high schools and development teams. Lastly, Hruza was part of the International Olympic Committee’s Solidarity Program and was in charge of reestablishing the water polo program in Barbados. The program was so successful that FINA extended his tenure as an “expert in water polo” and has sent him around the world to conduct coaches’ clinics since 2015.

Aleks Mitrevski – Bret Bernard National Referee Award (Elite)
Aleks Mitrevski was born and raised in Montenegro. He began playing water polo in Montenegro when he was a kid and stopped playing when he went to college in Belgrade, Serbia. It took Mitrevski a few years to realize how much he missed the game until he decided to rejoin it, this time as a referee. He started refereeing in Serbia in 2002 and did many games over the next few years, including several national youth championship games. Due to making a big life change and moving to Columbus, Ohio, Mitrevski took a longer break from refereeing. He eventually reactivated his love for refereeing in 2017 when he became a part of Ohio Water Polo Referee organization. In 2022, Mitrevski joined the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) officiating ranks and the following year, he became a member of Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) officiating corps. Over the years, Mitrevski has refereed many of the Olympic Development Program (ODP) tournaments, Junior Olympics, and Champions Cups. He worked many of the Ohio State Championship Tournaments including championship games for girls and boys. In 2023, Mitrevski did the ODP National Championship Game and won an award as Best Referee in the Youth Division. That same year, he also worked Division III Regionals and Nationals for Girls and Boys. He has been voted as the best referee at the Champions Cup two years in a row (2022, 2023) and was voted as the best referee in the Great Lakes Zone in 2023. Besides being a full time employee as a Manager at a local Ohio company and being busy on the pool deck, Mitrevski like to spend his free time with family and friends, including his wife Kristyn, whom he is very grateful understands his passion for the sport.

Courtney Bird – Tom Hermstad National Referee Award (Scholastic)
Courtney Bird began officiating and coaching water polo out of high school in 2009. More recently, Bird was able to officiate the Junior Olympics 16U Girls championship game in 2022. Additionally, she has officiated in her home state of Oregon for the last 14 years where she has called many state finals. Bird has played water polo since seventh grade and participated in club water polo in undergrad and graduate school at Portland State University, where she helped her team earn their way to the National Collegiate Club Championship. She continues to enjoy playing as a masters athlete and feels it’s a privilege to be part of the water polo community and to play a role in shaping the future of athletes in this dynamic and exciting sport.

Information courtesy USA Water Polo

Collegiate Water Polo Association