BRIDGEPORT, Pa. — Having recently completed his fifth year as the head men’s and women’s water polo coach at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Ill., Peter Ollis can look back at a tenure which has seen the Fighting Scots slug it out with the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s best in both genders.
“As a coach there have been so many great memories. Becca Dabrowski winning player of the year her senior year after I spent four years with her – to see her reach that milestone and be named All-America was incredibly special,” recalls Ollis regarding Dabrowski who earned 2019 CWPA Division III Most Valuable Player accolades.
Ollis experienced immediate success when the men’s team produced their first All-America selection in program history in 2015 with recognition for Raheem Brown. The women’s team also made history under Ollis’ guidance, as they too, turned out their first All-American the following spring and three years later added another women’s All-America.
The women’s successes were immediate as they set the school record for wins in Ollis’ first season and reset the record the following year. In 2018, Ollis’ women earned their first national ranking in program history and in 2019 recorded their highest league finish – third – at the season-ending CWPA Championship at Connecticut College to garner Ollis Coach of the Year status.
“Last year I was able to graduate my first athlete that was a first generation college graduate and to see him develop from a kid who came to college for water polo to into an incredible young man was truly special. I could ramble on about them. Developing these relationships with kids, hopefully being a positive factor in their lives and development through water polo is about as great of a job as I can imagine.”
A four-time All-Atlantic Division performer at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (Virginia Tech) in the CWPA’s men’s collegiate club ranks, Ollis earned an undergraduate degree in Sociology and Psychology in 2012 prior to completing a Masters degree in Cybersecurity from Utica College in 2014 while serving as a graduate assistant coach for the Pioneers.
His playing experience with the Hokies have influenced his coaching at Monmouth.
“The best memories I have as a player would probably be winning the Atlantic Division in 2009 and the life long relationships that were formed. It’s rewarding as I get older for the relationships that spread across the country from people you played water polo with in college. This year, we were able to get a recruit from Tennessee where I had played masters with his coach 15 years prior. Those relationships are amazing.”
Following his undergraduate days in Blacksburg, Va., Ollis entered the varsity coaching ranks as a graduate assistant at Utica under head coach Erin Knight.
“The transition was interesting due to the structure at Utica. Being the graduate assistant, but running the team, forced me to learn so much about the logistics of running a NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) program. I was very lucky to be able to step into that role with Erin helping me but also giving me a great deal of autonomy.”
Being a young coach starting out in the profession, Ollis had to overcome a slight age disparity.
“The biggest transition that I had was nervous about was being so similar in age to the athletes. My first year at Utica, two of the women were actually older than me, so I needed to define a clear coach-athlete relationship. I was very luck and had fantastic captains that helped with that immensely.”
Preparing to enter his sixth year at Monmouth as head water polo coach and an assistant swimming coach, Ollis credits recruiting for the rise of the Fighting Scots in both men’s and women’s competition.
“I try to emphasize the opportunity that Division III offers to be involved in as many things as you are interested in. We have excelled recruiting dual sport athletes, we have a large percentage of kids involved in the music departments and we try to show the great teacher-to-student ratio that the school has to offer. Obviously, a small school isn’t for everyone, but we emphasize there are many opportunities to be involved with at Monmouth.”
“Water polo is nice because we play all division levels (Division I, II, III) so I can down play the importance of just going Division I or Division II by saying how we compete against all of them.”
Looking back on his rise from club athlete to varsity head coach, Ollis offers some advice to today’s athletes looking to follow a similar path.
“The best advice I can give is to ask as many questions as you can of older coaches. In my experience with water polo almost every veteran coach is willing to help young coaches with advice about the job (strategy, interpersonal coaching advice, or even work life balance of being a coach). It is your job to decide if you’d like to implement what they are saying but always make sure you listen to what they might have to say.”