The Broncos had their highest finish ever last season in conference play, finishing third at the WWPA tournament. Mitch Klipa, the starting two meter defender for the Broncos, was a key contributor to the team while also being named team defensive MVP for the second year in a row. Klipa is a junior from Forest Hills Central High School and is a business major at Santa Clara University. This feature piece is long but definitely worth the read!
SCU: How did you get involved in water polo? Is the style of play in the east any different than out here in California?
MK: I got involved in water polo through my sister. She played water polo in Michigan and actually went on to play at the collegiate level for Villanova University. I grew up swimming competitively since the age of five and always enjoyed water sports and thought (after watching my sister play in HS) that I would give it a try. So, during the summer of eighth grade, I attended a water polo camp at Bucknell University, having never played water polo before. After a week at the camp, I knew that I had fallen in love with the game. When I returned from the camp I told my mother that I wanted to play water polo. There was only one problem ... my high school did not have a men's team. My mother called the athletic director at our rival high school and got him to agree to allow me to play for their team.
After my first season playing high school polo I knew that I wanted to play Division 1 water polo. From that point on, I did everything I could to gain exposure to the game at a higher level. That meant driving long distances every weekend and even during the week just to improve my game. After my junior year of high school I had been contacted by several coaches from schools on the East coast about playing water polo, but I knew that if was ever going to play with the best I needed to be in California. So, I did some research about the schools in California that had D1-water polo and had the characteristics I wanted in a school (small class size, beautiful campus, great people) and from that point on I knew that I was destined to play for Santa Clara. I knew that it would be a challenge playing polo with and against players that have been playing their entire life, but I had set a goal for myself and that was what had to be done.
The collegiate game of water polo is a great deal faster than the high school game in general, now throw Michigan high school water polo into the mix and you get a game that is a great deal different. At first it was hard for me to adjust my style of play to fit within the college system. I had been used to playing in high school and being expected to be the best player in all aspects of the game, but now at the collegiate level I have the opportunity to be a part of one of the most team-oriented sports around. I have told young players back home when they ask me what the main difference between high school and collegiate polo, that the game is so much faster and everyone is just as good. Many times people are just as good as you are and that is fun to be along for the ride.
SCU: Rumor has it that you are a pretty big Green Bay Packers fan. How did you become such a big fan and how do you feel about Green Bay legend Brett Favre?
MK: I was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan and have relatives that live in Green Bay. Growing up, I had the privilege of attending many Packers games. I will never forget the first game I attended. I was probably 8 or 9 years old and it was a playoff game between the Packers and the Falcons. It was so cold that I literally wore three down jackets on top of one another just to stay mildly cold instead of freezing. I remember sitting there as my foot went through the stages of freezing: from cold to prickly pain and then complete numbness. I thought while sitting there while this was happening "just keep your mouth shut, you got to go to a playoff game and your brother and sister didn't." When my mother told me to get up at halftime to use the restroom, my boot came off as I stood up because it had become frozen to the ground. It turns out that there was a hole in my boot and water from the slushy snow have seeped into my boot. So, I watched the rest of the game with my foot nuzzled in my mother's armpit trying to heat it back to life. From that point on I have been a die-hard Packers Fan, and always will be.
As for Brett Favre, I had no problem when he signed with the Jets, but when he betrayed the Packers fans by signing with the Vikings, I lost all respect for him. I think his number should never be retired at Lambeau Field and he should be removed from the Packer Hall of Fame.
SCU: Since you arrived at Santa Clara, the men's water polo team has taken great strides. What do you think can be attributed to Santa Clara's recent success?
MK: When I was researching different schools with D1-water polo, I was told by a member of the water polo community that Santa Clara was going to be the up and coming polo school in California, and this was five years ago. I was told that they had a new young coach that knew how to win. I think that our team has made great strides because our coach (Keith Wilbur) has recruited the right players to make a team chemistry unlike any other in D1 athletics. He is able to do this because he is a selfless individual who acts only in the team's best interest and never his own. Keith will certainly be able to build and improve our program as the years go on with our increased funding. I have been very fortunate that fate led me to play for Santa Clara, and I would not change it for the world.
SCU: How is the team preparing itself for the 2010 season? What are the team's goals as well as your own?
MK: The team is busy working hard during this off-season to prepare for next season. We have several players that have participated in the Olympic Development Program and the benefits of that can already be seem both in and out of the pool. As a freshman, I was lucky enough be on the team when we beat our rival to the south LMU. However, I did not play in the game. I have always had the goal in the back of my head to beat LMU again and I think the team understands that goal as well. I do not believe in rebuilding years and because our team has such a unique combination of skills, it is ridiculous to think we cannot do anything we truly believe in.
SCU: Do you have any nicknames that the team's given you?
MK: I have had several nicknames since joining the team in 2007. As an incoming freshman, I was known as the "Swan" because of my lanky body and the horrible sky-hook I put on display while playing basketball with the team on my recruiting trip.