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New Country Day water polo coach to build on solid foundation

The boys water polo program at La Jolla Country Day has a long way to go before it establishes itself as a perennial power on the San Diego scene like Coronado or its two counterparts in the town of La Jolla - The Bishop’s School and La Jolla High School. But the Torreys have made major strides since starting their program four years ago, and they took a big step recently with the hiring of a new coach.

After coach Nate Heppner, who had started the program and brought it to respectability, stepped down recently to spend more time with his young family, Country Day hired Steve Traverso to guide the boys water polo squad.

Country Day athletic director Jeff Hutzler said the school and the athletic program is thrilled to have a coach like Traverso join them. “A bunch of our players’ parents had known Steve through the club water polo world, and he came highly regarded,” Hutzler said. “Nate helped us find him as well, so he came with great recommendations.”

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Traverso, despite being just 26, brings a solid resume with him to Country Day. He served for the last two years as the head boys water polo and swim coach at Patrick Henry High School, and has also worked as a club water polo coach for a number of years in San Diego. That background, along with his familiarity with many of the players on the Torreys’ roster, made hiring him an easy choice for Hutzler.

Traverso will also work as an associate teacher with a fourth-grade class in the lower school at La Jolla Country Day. “There were two reasons I really wanted to go to Country Day when the opportunity came up,” Traverso said. “One was teaching on campus, and the other was that they had a good, young program. I wanted to come in and build it up. The foundation has pretty much been laid, but I want to build the rest of the house, so to speak. Nate’s done a really great job the last four years, and I want to take over on what he’s done and expand it into something big.”

Traverso said he’s looking forward to the chance to mold some young players, as well as to introduce the sport to players who haven’t played much before. Eventually, he’d like to introduce the game to younger athletes at the middle school level, since Country Day is a full K-12 school.

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“My approach is to implement the fundamentals of the game,” he said. “We’ll have a pretty young team this year, with only two returning starters and four or five kids who have never played before. So we’re starting from the ground up with our approach to the game. We’ll keep it pretty simple and try not to complicate things too much.”

“The way I approach the game is to make it easy and fun for the kids to get into the game and try to help the kids get on to the next level and hopefully play in college.”

Traverso himself played in college, first at a junior college and then at the Division I level for UC Santa Barbara at the 2-meter set position. Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, he began playing water polo around the age of 13 and then continued into high school. He graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2003 and moved soon after to San Diego.

He said he feels like his experience as a player, as well as his relative youth, will help him relate to his players on a level that an older coach might not. “I definitely know what they’re going through,” Traverso said. “I’ve always taken the tough road to things and worked really hard for things. I’ve always known that nothing’s going to be handed to me on a plate, so I learned to work hard. I try to instill that in all my kids, and I think that makes a difference.”

Hutzler likes that attitude, and is excited about the possibilities Traverso presents. He foresees a positive future for the program under its new coach.

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“Nate brought our program really from nothing to about the middle of the county,” Hutzler said. “When Nate stepped down, we were looking for someone to help us take that next step, and Steve’s that guy. He’s really aggressive and works the kids hard, and he’s going to help us continue to have a winning program.”

“We’re not looking to be a national-power water polo program. We’re looking to build a good, solid La Jolla Country Day program like the other 24 programs that follow the school’s mission of Scholar, Artist, Athlete‚ and want to play good water polo, an avenue to do that and a place to compete.”