It all began as a little friendly competition with her big sister, Ali - 13 years later, Caitlin Haskell, 25, took that competitive spirit and molded it into a career. After a rewarding high school and college career as a water polo player, Haskell was named Assistant Women’s Water Polo Coach last year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
“It’s really no surprise that Caitlin has reached this level this early in her coaching career,” said Steve Haskell, Caitlin’s father. “At an early age ... she had an aptitude for the game beyond her years. She’s doing what she loves.”
Caitlin said she spent her summers camped out by her grandparents pool and became a member of the Clovis Swim Club at age seven.
“My older sister and I had a passion for competing, but counting laps got a little repetitive as we got older,” she said.
When Ali decided to play water polo one summer, the girls’ parents learned that 12-year-old Caitlin was old enough to join the program, also.
“My parents decided to extend the same invitation to me that summer, and naturally I said, ‘Yes’ since my sister was doing it,” Caitlin said. “That was the start of it all.”
Gary Gleason was one of Haskell’s first water polo coaches. Gleason recalls first meeting Caitlin at a summer tournament and noticing that even though she was much younger and smaller than most of the other competitors, she didn’t let it affect her.
“It was amazing to watch her compete with girls older and bigger than she was,” Gleason said. “I knew then that she was special. I am so proud of her. She helped us at Alta [Sierra Intermediate] win our first ever Middle School Championship.”
Competition really heated up when she entered high school and began playing as a Buchanan Bear. Caitlin said Clovis West was the team to beat with consecutive California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Central Section Championships. As as freshman on the varsity team, she experienced her first championship loss (10-1) to Clovis West.
“It was embarrassing, and I have never wanted to get off a pool deck quicker,” she said. “That night on the bus ride home, I told myself I never wanted my team to go through a loss for a championship title again.”
And they didn’t. As a senior, Caitlin and her teammates proudly stood as “three-peat” title holders, ranked No. 1 in the Central Valley. Caitlin was also named CIF Most Valuable Player both her junior and senior year at Buchanan.
“When I think back to game highlights as a high school athlete, I can’t really pin point which goal or assist led to what,” Caitlin said. “The moments that left a lasting impression were the moments and adventures I had with my teammates throughout the years.”
After graduating from Buchanan in 2007, Caitlin went on to play competitively for Dan Klatt at UC Irvine. Caitlin says that was the “best decision I made in my life.”
Klatt had attended Clovis West as a teenager, and Caitlin said his personal experience with water polo in the Central Valley gave him an advantage in coaching her up to Division 1 water polo.
“I felt like no other coach could fulfill my desire to play at the highest level, since they didn’t fully understand my upbringing in the sport like Klatt did,” Caitlin said.
Caitlin said it was tough acclimating to the new challenges her freshman year of college. Gleason said college water polo is very difficult to play and even more difficult to be successful at it.
“It is tough to project how far a kid can go when you see them in middle school because of all the pitfalls along the way,” Gleason said. “She was determined to be good at a young age and clearly that determination is still in her today.”
Caitlin conquered her challenges and by her junior year she had been named an All-American player and was co-captain of the water polo team.
“The greatest highlight of my career was being a part of the first team for UCI to not only win our first conference title in the Big West my sophomore year, but also qualifying for NCAA’s my senior year,” Caitlin said. “These victories took the program to a new level, and they are still continuing to grow and challenge the top four teams today.”
After college, Caitlin was an assistant coach at SoCal Water Polo for three and-a-half years. She was also the SOPAC Zone assistant coach for the USA National Development Team. She was also a primary national staff coach for the Olympic Development Program Holiday Camp in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Caitlin says throughout her career, her biggest motivation has been her father.
“He was an athlete himself, so he knew how to inspire me by keeping it all very simple - ‘work hard and pay attention to your coach.’ This advice put my coaches in the light of superiority and ultimately motivated me to maintain a great work ethic,” she said.
Caitlin said her teammates also had a big influence on her motivation.
“They challenged me and I challenged them,” she said. “This relationship was so important to me and at the end of the day I was my teammate’s biggest fan. I knew their highs and lows, and vise versa. This gave me motivation to push myself every day not only for myself but for my team.”
However, even with a successful career, there is one disappointing moment that will forever be in Caitlin’s mind - a loss to the Univeristy of Southern California Trojans at the NCAA Championships. Playing well through the entire match, Caitlin’s team - the UC Irvine Anteaters - thought they were set for the win. At the end of the third quarter, the teams were tied 7-7, but USC pulled ahead for a 14-9 win.
“(Coach) Klatt was proud, but we all knew we wanted the win,” Caitlin said. “I honestly can’t remember the games that followed, which were my last games in my collegiate career. The best part of this story is that this game took place in Canham Natatorium at the University of Michigan. (Now) I get to coach at the pool where I lost the most important game of my career. I laugh cause it’s just funny how life works out some times. Thankfully, at this point as the assistant coach at the university, the pool has taken on a new meaning for me.
Caitlin became assistant coach at the University of Michigan last August. Her coaching philosophy is to provide opportunity, foster athletic development, and incorporate life lessons in her general curriculum.
“These points of emphasis have been configured by my personal journey with water polo as a player and a coach,” she said.
Steve said Caitlin’s hard work and dedication to the sport have contributed to her success and paved the way for her current position at University of Michigan, and her parents have high hopes for her future.
“Her mother (Laura) and I have no doubt that some day Caitlin will be a head coach at a D-I program, fulfilling her career dream,” Steve said.
University of Michigan water polo head coach Dr. Marcelo Leonardi and Caitlin will host a summer camp June 28 to July 2 at the university. Girls age 14-18 are invited to attend, and Caitlin would love to see some Clovis residents experiencing life as a Wolverine Water Polo Athlete.
For information on the summer camp program, visit: camps.mgoblue.com/Summer_Camps/Water_Polo.htm