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Costa Mesa’s Chris Oeding inducted into USA Water Polo Hall of Fame

Chris Oeding and U.S. women's Olympic water polo team captain Maggie Steffens share a laugh.
Chris Oeding and U.S. women’s Olympic water polo team captain Maggie Steffens share a laugh after receiving the gift of a bottle of wine before the start of the 40th USA Water Polo Hall of Fame class induction luncheon at the DoubleTree Hotel in Claremont on Friday.
(James Carbone)
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Chris Oeding walked on stage Friday afternoon as “Party in the U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus played in the background.

Oeding just smiled.

“I think I’ve been coaching women’s water polo for too long,” he told the crowd at the 2024 USA Water Polo Hall of Fame Induction luncheon. “Actually, that’s not fair, that was my selection of a song.”

Anything mentioning the United States maybe means a little more this summer to Oeding, who is returning as Olympic women’s water polo assistant coach for the third straight Olympic Games in Paris.

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In the lead up to that, he received a big honor Friday. Oeding, a former Corona del Mar High boys’ water polo star who lives in Costa Mesa, was one of four in the 2024 class inducted into the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame at the DoubleTree Hotel in Claremont.

Chris Oeding smiles while being inducted into the 40th USA Water Polo Hall of Fame class.
Chris Oeding smiles during his speech while being inducted into the 40th USA Water Polo Hall of Fame class on Friday.
(James Carbone)

Oeding, 52, has had a long and varied career in the sport. He came into CdM as a freshman in 1985 with the intent of being a soccer player. John Vargas, a USA Water Polo Hall of Fame coach at Stanford who was then an up-and-coming boys’ water polo coach for the Sea Kings, didn’t see things that way.

“It was kind of right place, right time,” Oeding said. “After that fall season it was, ‘You’re not going to be playing soccer. You’re going to be swimming and playing water polo year-round now.’”

Considered one of the best prep water polo players from Orange County, Oeding helped CdM win the 1987 and ’88 CIF Southern Section Division 4A titles, beating rival Newport Harbor and Sunny Hills, respectively, in the championship matches. He was the CIF Player of the Year in his senior year of 1988.

“When he was a junior at CdM, he had seven goals in the CIF finals and he won that game for CdM single-handedly,” said Oeding’s future Olympic teammate Gavin Arroyo, who played at Villa Park at the time and is another Hall of Fame member, in a video played before Oeding’s speech. “That’s when I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is pretty amazing.’”

Chris Oeding, center, with Doug Peabody, left, and Kiley Neushul, wearing their USA Water Polo Hall of Fame blue coats.
Chris Oeding, center, with Doug Peabody, left, and Kiley Neushul, wearing their USA Water Polo Hall of Fame blue coats following Friday’s luncheon.
(James Carbone)

From there it was off to Cal, where he won three national championships and shared NCAA Player of the Year honors in 1992.

A captain for the U.S. men’s junior national team, Oeding battled through a shoulder injury to make the 1996 and 2000 Olympic team, and was again captain of the latter squad.

“The thing about Chris is just he’s been a leader ever since he was a kid,” legendary U.S. player Tony Azevedo said in the video.

Azevedo shared that he was a nervous young player at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, where the United States men placed sixth.

“I didn’t know what to do,” said Azevedo, yet another USA Water Polo Hall of Fame member. “Chris goes, ‘Hey guys, let’s go.’ We went to the oldest bar in Sydney, Australia and we had beers. It was the best night, and we all became even closer.”

Chris Oeding is congratulated by members of the U.S. women's Olympic water polo team on Friday.
Chris Oeding is congratulated by members of the U.S. women’s Olympic water polo team during the 40th USA Water Polo Hall of Fame Class induction luncheon in Claremont on Friday.
(James Carbone)

After coaching at Orange Coast College in the late 1990s, Oeding began coaching at Long Beach City College in 2000 as his playing career was concluding. Six state championships later, he’s still there, and he joined the U.S. women’s national team coaching staff in 2013.

“He’s just a gift from the water polo gods in how well he knows the game, what a great athlete he was,” Vargas said in the video. “I see him coach, and he has the discipline to not yell out and do all of this crazy screaming, but to look to analyze and teach. That’s what makes him a great coach.”

The United States women began using the new Long Beach City College aquatics facility in 2022, part of the reason that Oeding committed to rejoin the staff following a brief break after the Tokyo Olympics.

“I was looking out of my window and watching the team train,” Oeding said. “Might as well jump back in.”

U.S. women’s head coach Adam Krikorian joked that since he’s much younger than Oeding — in truth they are less than three years apart — he’s always looked up to him as a water polo player. They take a U.S. team to Paris that is looking for its fourth straight gold medal, albeit one with seven first-time Olympians.

Inductees pose for a picture prior to Friday's 40th USA Water Polo Hall of Fame class induction luncheon in Claremont.
Chris Oeding, left, Ken Smith, USA Water Polo CEO Chris Ramsey, Kiley Neushul and Doug Peabody pose for a picture prior to Friday’s 40th USA Water Polo Hall of Fame class induction luncheon in Claremont.
(James Carbone)

Oeding was inducted as part of a class which also includes former standout prep player from Santa Barbara and Olympic gold medalist Kiley Neushul, longtime influential San Diego area club and high school water polo coach Doug Peabody and longtime Punahou School of Hawaii coach Ken Smith.

Oeding thanked his family. His wife, Eden, and son, Gus, who played water polo at Newport Harbor, were present as well as his older brother, Jeff, and parents, Maureen and Robert. Jeff was an accomplished water polo player in his own right, helping CdM reach the 1984 CIF title game and winning a couple of NCAA titles at Stanford.

Chris and Eden Oeding are set to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in a couple of weeks. Chris joked about it during his speech, mentioning his busy schedule leading up to the Paris Olympics.

“It’s a perfect opportunity to get out and travel, maybe go to Europe,” he said. “I just wanted to tell you, I checked the schedule, and we have one day off on June 17, so we can push forward with those plans.”

U.S. women's water polo coaches Chris Oeding and Adam Krikorian pose for a picture in Claremont on Friday.
U.S. women’s water polo coaches Chris Oeding and Adam Krikorian pose for a picture prior to the 40th USA Water Polo Hall of Fame class induction luncheon in Claremont on Friday.
(James Carbone)
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