Nov. 29, 2011
BERKELEY - Jesse Figueroa has been a fixture on the pool deck of Cal's Spieker Aquatics Complex for over 30 years. He will be retiring on Dec. 4 at the conclusion of the 2011 NCAA Men's Water Polo Championship hosted by the Golden Bears.
Jesse Figueroa has touched many lives during his time at Cal, whether assisting head coaches, mentoring student-athletes or cooperating with co-workers. He first came to Cal in 1968 as a student, then returned in 1978 as a goalie coach for men's soccer coach Bob DiGrazia. During his over 30 years of service to the University, Figueroa has assisted three different men's soccer coaches, two different water polo coaches and was a club coach for the women's water polo team. He has also been a member of Cal's facilities staff for over 25 years, spending the majority of his time making sure things are running smoothly at Spieker Aquatics Complex, home to some of the world's greatest athletes and coaches.
It is fitting that Jesse Figueroa will conclude his career after Cal hosts the 2011 NCAA Championship, Dec. 3-4. He has worked with nine national champion men's water polo teams. What better way for this dedicated employee to enjoy his final hurrah than in the place where he has spent so many hours working for the betterment of Cal's student-athletes and coaches?
Figueroa elaborates on his more than three decades of dedication to the Blue and Gold:
Q: How long have you worked at Cal? Is it true you have coached goalies for both the men's soccer team and the men's water polo team?
A: I have worked at Cal for 33 years. I first started in August of 1978 as an assistant soccer coach for Bob DiGrazia, working with the goalies and the junior varsity team. Later, in 1980, Peter Cutino asked me to join his water polo program and work with his goalies. This came about because he liked what I was doing with the women's water polo club program (I was the women's club coach).
Q: Is it true that you started the Cal women's water polo club team?
A: Nope, the women's water polo club got started around 1975 or so by a few ladies. One of the ladies was Lynn Wittstock's (Cal Hall of Fame water polo player) sister, Carol, who had played for me when she was in the ninth grade at West Campus Junior High in Berkeley. She saw me in the hall in Harmon Gym in 1979 and asked me if I would be interested in coaching their club team, and the rest is history.
Q: How long have you worked for facilities in the Cal Athletic Department? Were you involved in the renovation of Harmon Pool into Spieker Aquatics Complex?
A: I have worked for facilities in the Cal Athletic Department for about 25 years and full-time since 1993 when the NCAA asked all schools to cut back three percent of the existing coaching staff. Steve Heaston was the coach at that time and he had to let me go, but not before he made sure I stuck around to take care of the equipment needs for the swimming and water polo programs, the swimming pools on campus, which I was doing already for the Recreational Sports Department. I was involved in an indirect way when the Harmon pool was renovated into what is now called Spieker Aquatics Complex.
Q: What has been the highlight of your career?
A: Wow, that is a tough question because there have been so many - being recruited to play soccer here at Cal by Bob DiGrazia, being asked to become an assistant soccer coach for the Bears, helping take the Cal men's soccer team to two NCAA regional playoffs, coaching Mary Harvey who went on to be the goalkeeper for the U.S. Women's Soccer Team and watching her and her teammates win the first Women's World Soccer Cup in China, coaching three Cal's men's water polo goalies who played for the U.S. National Team in three Olympics, coaching countless All-Americans in soccer and water polo...the list goes on and on. I guess you could say my career highlight is just being totally involved in athletics here at Cal.
Q: Which Cal coaches have most influenced you?
A: I was blessed to have two mentors here at Cal, Bob DiGrazia for soccer and Peter Cutino for Water Polo. They had similar coaching styles. I was a player, a volunteer coach, assistant soccer camp director, and assistant soccer coach under Bob DiGrazia. I first met coach DiGrazia in the1950's on a youth soccer team he was coaching, and again 13 years later when he recruited me from City College of San Francisco to attend Cal and play soccer for him and the Golden Bears. I credit him for who I am today. For me, as well as hundreds of athletes, Bob DiGrazia was a friend and a role model to emulate. To me, Bob was attentive and supportive of all my endeavors regarding my career as a coach and clinician. Bob has been referred to by his friends as "A Man's Man" because of his integrity and honesty in dealing with his players, parents, co-workers, campus administrators and faculty members at Cal. It was Peter Cutino who said "the question arises: do sports build character? I contend they reveal it." He was a great teacher of young men and was a great influence on me.
Q: Is it exciting for you to have the NCAA Men's Water Polo Championship happen at Spieker Aquatics Complex?
A: Oh yeah, no question I am excited about the NCAA championships being at Spieker Aquatics Complex. I know Peter (Cutino) and Steve (Heaston) are up there in heaven looking down on us and saying "isn't this great!" There is a t-shirt around that says, "The House That Pete Built!", and that is talking about Spieker Aquatics Complex and all the success that has happened here for the Golden Bears because of the outstanding coaching of Pete Cutino.
Q: When did you start the tradition of giving Cal water polo pins to parents of the seniors?
I think I began giving Cal water polo pins to the parents of the seniors when Kirk Everist first became the head coach of our men's program in 2002. So now, every year I give pins to the senior's parents, and if the team wins a national championship, the players get a pin as well.
Q: Which student-athletes have most impressed you through the years?
A: I would have to say for water polo it would be goalies Jim Wagner, Jeff Brush and Sean Nolan. Jim (Wagner) bought into my philosophy on how to protect the cage, and at the 1990 NCAAs in Long Beach he came off the bench in the last few minutes of our championship game against Stanford and just flat out stopped a one on nobody and shut down a power play, and on both plays got an assist on the goals that we scored on the counterattack. Jeff (Brush) on the other hand, was, and still is, an entrepreneur. One time during an NCAA championship I asked where we were going to eat for dinner after the match to get him to relax. We ended up winning the championship by two goals. Sean (Nolan, current Cal goalie coach) was a treat to work with. He had the size, strength and quickness, and was highly intelligent about angles. He was, and still is, a hard worker.
Q: What are you going to miss the most about working at the University of California?
A: The friendships I have established with my fellow facility workers in the Cal Athletic Department, and of course the coaches and athletes of the soccer, swimming and water polo teams I have known through my time at Cal.