Mount St. Mary’s is making a splash in the water polo scene.
Entering the tail end of the team’s schedule, head coach Alyssa Diacono has her team dialed in and rolling through late stages of the season.
“We’re going on to season three, and this is only our second full season since COVID,” Diacono said. “We’ve had a really good sophomore and junior class, and we’ve brought in a freshman class that complements it, so it’s just been a fun season so far.”
Diacono’s men’s team has made waves so far this year, drastically improving on their successes from last season, with plenty of time left to solidify a solid 2022 campaign.
With the program being so young and having to navigate through seasons interrupted by issues with an international pandemic, growing pains are to be expected.
Diacono is now at the helm of both the men’s and women’s programs and is looking to keep improving with every game.
“This is the first season that I’ve had a full roster,” she said. “We have 23 men and 21 women, so it’s definitely an adjustment, but I have an awesome assistant coach, Justin Vink, who has been a big help.”
Coaching and managing the ins and outs of a collegiate level team is a tough task, but Diacono seems to have found her calling since her days as a player.
“The men play in the fall, and the women play in the spring,” she said. “That allows us to focus on scouting and recruiting for the men now, and then we can switch over to preparing the women as the fall season finishes.”
Diacono and Vink splitting duties has helped the whole operation run much smoother, and it has allowed them the freedom to apply their expertise to the players as needed. The development of the program in the coming years will be, in huge part, due to the efforts the current coaching staff has put in.
“Both teams understand what they’ve gotten themselves into, and they’re both big supporters of each other’s programs, which as a coach helps me a lot,” Diacono said.
With water polo being such a niche sport still, the growth of the game is incredibly important to start at the youth level. Programs across the country have made a tremendous difference pulling young athletes from other sports to try water polo.
“USA Water Polo has done a really great job at building up the sport at the youth level,” Diacono said. “At the Mount, we run clinics and things like that. We’ve brought kids from the Waynesboro YMCA to watch our games.”
The game’s growth at the high school level has really taken off. High school leagues in water polo hotbeds like California, Texas, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have made a major impact on the future of the sport. A lot of water polo teams have to rely on pulling athletes from more traditional team sports, and that’s the same way Diacono got her start.
“I played any sport you can imagine growing up,” Diacono said. “I had a few injuries, and I met a friend who played water polo, so I juggled that and softball my freshman year of high school, and I just stuck to water polo. I got a late start to the sport, so I think that’s why I still love it so much and never got burned out.”
Diacono’s dedication to the game took her to the collegiate level and beyond, and now she brings her wealth of experience to the Mount with hopes of pursuing the same level of success.
“I went and played at San Diego State, I played professionally in Australia, and then I started coaching at Mercyhurst in Erie, Pennsylvania, as a graduate assistant,” she said. “From there, the Mount opened the position for starting both programs and picked me.”
As a recent player, the transition to running a collegiate team is a daunting task, but Diacono and company have taken things in stride with no plans on looking back.
“Coaching is exciting, but it’s just a different part of the game. I obviously loved playing but being able to implement what I’ve learned and even have a different perspective as a coach has been awesome,” Diacono said.
Despite the challenges the team dealt with throughout Mount St. Mary’s opening few seasons, Mount water polo is in good hands with Diacono steering the ship.
Head Coach Alyssa Diacono leads both the men’s and women’s squads through the 2022 season.
Photo by Blair Garrett