Oct. 26, 2000
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.-- U.S. women's water polo head coach and UCLA Co-Head Coach Guy Baker has been selected as the 2000 United Airlines/U.S. Water Polo Coach of the Year. He will be honored at the USWP awards luncheon in January.
For Baker, this will be his second reign as the top coach in the sport. Baker was also named Coach of the Year as a National Team rookie coach in 1998. This year, however, Baker led the members of the U.S. women's team from "last ditch qualifier" status to the proud owners of 13 silver medals.
Last fall, Baker led the UCLA men's water polo team to the third NCAA title in his nine years as head coach. Combined with the women's team, Baker has won six national championships at UCLA.
"I feel really fortunate to have been named Coach of the Year," said Baker. "I've always said that coaches get too much of the credit, or too much of the blame. But I'd rather be on the 'too much credit side.' This is a great team and they've had a great year," said Baker, speaking about the women's Olympic team.
The U.S., after missing out on an early Olympic qualification last year, secured its entitlement to an appearance in Sydney in late April with a win over Hungary at the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Palermo, Sicily.
Team USA, who now had locked in its spot to compete at the first Olympics to include women's water polo as a team sport, went on a tear over the next few months, most notably at the Holiday Cup in July. The Baker-led Stars and Stripes went undefeated against the whole of the Olympic field, winning six straight en route to the tournament crown. The U.S. managed to dispatch gold medal favorites Australia and Holland in the process and consequently threw itself into the medal mix, no longer just a "last ditch qualifier."
Baker then led the team up against the world at the 2000 Olympic Games, its only two losses coming to Australia, once in the preliminaries, and once in the gold medal game. A new element had gripped women's water polo ... the crowd of 17,500 at the final match had vehemently declared the arrival of the sport on the spectator map. The largest crowd ever to take in a women's water polo contest watched as the world's two best teams battled down to the wire for the sport's first-ever gold medal. And even though "Baker's Dozen" didn't walk away with the gold, he had taken them further than anyone had imagined only a few short months earlier.
"I see this as a great honor, not just for myself, but for this team," he said. "The players, the staff, family and friends ... everyone. So many factors go into success. This has been a great ride, and everyone's pitched in."