Water Polo: Palazzo, Melstrom to lead Sailors

A sign caught Marco Palazzo's eye as he went out to breakfast Sunday morning.

On the sign was a quote credited to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Palazzo recited it Monday night, in front of about 200 people at the Robins/Loats Theater on the campus of Newport Harbor High.

"Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people."

The idea behind Monday night's community meeting was to announce the new boys' and girls' water polo coaches at Newport Harbor. It was a big night for a pair of programs that have combined to win 17 CIF Southern Section titles.

Palazzo is the interim boys' water polo coach while longtime assistant Brian Melstrom will take over the girls' position from Bill Barnett after the upcoming winter season, Newport Harbor Principal Sean Boulton announced.

Dean Crow, a 1984 Newport Harbor water polo graduate who is currently the principal at Columbus Tustin Middle School, is taking over director duties for the Newport Beach Water Polo Club.

Palazzo, a 39-year-old Newport Beach resident, has been the frosh-soph coach at Newport Harbor the past two years under head coach Robert Lynn, who stepped down on Aug. 1. He played professionally in his native Italy for 18 years and was head coach of the Menlo-Atherton High boys' water polo team in 2010. He left that position to become an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic men's water polo team in 2012.

Palazzo also was Stanford Water Polo Foundation age group coach for five years, working with former CdM boys' coach John Vargas. He also was an assistant coach at Atherton Sacred Heart Prep for three years, under former Newport Harbor head man Brian Kreutzkamp. He said he counts Vargas, Kreutzkamp and former Team USA head coach Terry Schroeder as some of his biggest coaching influences.

Pavle Filipovic, who also attended Monday night's meeting, is staying on as varsity assistant coach and enters his fourth year with the program.

Palazzo is named the Sailors' head coach less than three weeks before their season opener Sept. 6 at Coronado. But he's not overly concerned about that, he said following the hour-long meeting that also featured questions from parents and community members.

"What makes a great season, because we coach student-athletes, is not just the season in terms of the outcome of the games," Palazzo said. "A great season will be to teach these kids the game, to teach these kids life, to teach these kids to be a better person and a better student. This is our goal, to teach them as much as possible inside the pool and outside the pool. My first thought goes to the seniors, which are the boys that are concerned about their future in college. Myself and the coaching staff will do the best possible to help them in this process."

Boulton said that Palazzo was named the interim coach because he is "the best person to move [the program] forward." He added that it would be unfair to name a permanent coach so close to the start of the season.

Palazzo said he would most likely apply to become the permanent boys' water polo coach following the season, but that his main concern is that he wants the community to receive the best mentoring and coaching possible. Lynn, who incidentally was also an assistant coach on the 2012 Olympic team, stepped down as Sailors coach two weeks after he stopped coaching with Newport Beach Water Polo Club.

NBWPC chairman John Dobrott said Monday night that Lynn was removed from his position as director and head coach of the club, declining to elaborate. Boulton also has declined to give a reason why Lynn resigned as high school coach, calling it a personnel issue, and Lynn has not commented.

Melstrom, meanwhile, said he returned to Newport Beach from a vacation in Palm Desert to attend the meeting. He was glad he did, as he will lead the Sailors girls following Barnett's retirement after the upcoming 2014-15 season. Barnett has been the only head coach in girls' program history, capturing five CIF Southern Section Division 1 titles.

"He's passionate about young adults and he's also passionate about water polo," Boulton said of Melstrom. "Those two variables are great to move forward with."

Melstrom, 41, holds a Masters in coaching and athletic administration from Concordia University. He teaches math at Newport Harbor, and is going into his 12th year as Newport Harbor girls' junior varsity and assistant varsity head coach.

He will remain the Sailors' varsity girls swim coach.

"I think I put my time in," Melstrom said. "There's a lot of things that need to remain the same. Obviously, I'm going to bring some youthfulness to my coaching style, but Newport water polo has a tradition based on hard work, determination, good fundamentals. Those are things that I'm not going to let slide. Barnett has his legacy, and my job is to preserve the things that have made the foundation of his legacy."

Barnett also attended Monday night's meeting with his wife, Marcia. Boulton said it was just four days after Barnett, entering his 48th year coaching at Harbor, underwent hip replacement surgery.

The replacement for Lynn as NBWPC director is Crow, whose daughter, Alex, currently plays girls' water polo at Newport Harbor.

"I'm adding this, on top of 60 hours a week paying the bills as a principal, because I believe in what I grew up in," Crow told the crowd. "I want that experience for Alex for the next two years, and every one of the faces I see in here, as athletes. It took me to UCI, it took me to the lifeguarding department. Many of the things that I've been able to accomplish in my life, I owe to Bill Barnett and this program. I want to make sure that's there for every kid that jumps in that pool."

Two incoming seniors at Newport Harbor, Clay Davison and Rachel Whitelegge, also spoke of their support for the hirings. Davison attended the meeting with many of his teammates on the boys' squad.

"I've been with these guys for eight or nine years, and I know when they're happy and when they're not," Davison said. "Throughout this summer, it's obviously been tough, but everyone throughout the entire program is set on moving forward and ready to work."

Boulton said early on in the meeting that he wanted the question-and-answer portion to be civil, and it was. Many of the questions involved not water polo, but swimming. A couple of parents voiced concerns about working out pool space between swimmers and water polo players, as well as wanting to make sure the new boys' swim coach was dedicated and different than the boys' water polo coach.

The boys' swim coach position, which also was vacated by Lynn, is still open. NHHS assistant principal Mike Sciacca said the opening is separate from the boys' water polo coach position, but that the same person still could end up holding both jobs.

"It's going to happen sooner rather than later," Sciacca said of filling the boys' swim coach position.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World