New is merely a synonym for exciting.
With the knowledge of a pool already a central part of campus, Wheaton Athletics expanded into a completely new aquatics sport, Water Polo. Even with small numbers on both the men’s and women’s sides at the moment, the team is led by a coach who is not afraid of the unknown.
Just over a year ago, Alana Burgess was announced as the new Men’s and Women’s head Water Polo coach. Since taking the job, the drive to build something special has been at the forefront of the former San Diego State University standout’s mind.
She brings with her a wealth of experience on both sides of the country. On the East Coast, Burgess was a part of the Brown University coaching staff and acted as the leader of the St. Francis College (NY) program for a year prior to moving to Rhode Island.
“When the Wheaton position opened up, it seemed like a challenge,” Burgess said, “It’s a brand new program, and also Division III which was not my background—not that it is a huge difference, but there are a lot of new rules. It’s all about recruiting with this area not being as big into the sport as the West Coast. It just seemed like that next natural step on my resume.”
Jump-starting a varsity sport from the ground up is not a task that everyone has the capability of taking on. There are many loopholes that an individual has to be willing to encounter. Since taking the job, there has been no shortage of challenges for the SDSU alum. As the trailblazer, she has to do the things that ordinary collegiate coaches don’t have to worry about. Not only was recruiting athletes something she did all year last year, but Burgess built water polo goals from scratch with the help of an instruction manual.
“I had never done that (built goals) before in my life,” Burgess expressed. “Most people I knew that I called had not done that before either. The instructions were similar to “IKEA” instructions with figures. They have stayed together thus far.”
She knew what she was signing up for. It’s not going to be 70 and sunny every day. The West Coast native has been able to embrace the obstacles and use them as an opportunity to learn.
Earlier this month, the men’s team announced some news that Burgess had been working toward since Day 1. Beginning in 2024, the men will be competing in one of the most competitive water polo conferences in the country, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF).
Some of the teams within the conference include Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Southern California, and the University of California Los Angeles. The former San Jose State University assistant is no stranger to the teams she will potentially encounter soon. The first leader in Wheaton Water Polo history competed in it as a player for four years, and later as a coach.
Burgess spoke on the Lyons joining the MPSF, stating, “That was my goal going into it. I don’t think I even knew it was a possibility before I even stepped foot on Wheaton.”
She continued, “It is primarily the big dogs in that league. Even though we will be on the East Coast version, when we cross over, you still get to say you played a top Division I-ranked team. That’s a huge thing for a Division III school to say. It’s exciting because we will have the opportunity to play the best of the best in addition to having that main brand visibility when it comes to recruiting.”
It’s only been a little more than a year, but you can see the progression of this new sport in Norton. Competitive matches for the Lyons are few and far between due to numbers, but that will soon change. The work ethic of all the current players, Burgess herself, and assistant GT Ladd is just one of the reasons why. Even with this sport in its infancy stage, there are clear-cut objectives for what this program aims to achieve.
“The four-year plan for us on both sides is to go to our Conference Championship game, and I think that is 100% possible,” Burgess said, “I don’t think that is a crazy goal at all. The goal for the next few years is to develop a good culture, but we also want to get some wins.”