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McMillan changes the tide for Valley water polo

After taking over the program in 2004, Monarch men’s water polo has become a force to be reckoned with.

By Nicholas Orozco, Sports Editor

Water polo coach Jim McMillan teaches a swimming class at the Valley College Aquatics Center on Nov. 28. As a Monarch coach for 18 years, McMillan has won the Western State Conference Coach of the Year eight times and was State Coach of the Year (2018). (Griffin O'Rourke | Valley Star)

Taking on a program that had consistent losing seasons, it would be transformed into a powerhouse that is known for its players, with the key focus on developing the young men.

The head coach came to Valley College in 2004, prior to his interview he was completely unaware of the campus and program. Jim McMillan was then brought on as head coach with all his vast amounts of experience.

“I had never been to the valley in my whole life,” said Jim McMillan. “Until I came here to interview. I didn't even know where it was. I grew up in Southern California, I always drove to go up north I take PCH and can stay by the water.”

Only discovering the sport as a teen, he would take on water polo as a passion, which would then lead him to great opportunities. He would go on to play at Santa Ana Community College and receive a scholarship to play at Pepperdine University. With his eligibility running out, it led him to play in a semi pro league in Australia.

“It was another league,” said the decorated coach. “When my eligibility ran out, I wanted to keep competing. They contacted me and said, ‘you want to come down?’”

With a short Visa of six months, he played for three months and spent the remainder of his time exploring the country.

Returning to the states he began his coaching tenure. McMillan was invited to coach the club water polo team at Loyola Marymount University. Becoming a coach at 25 years old, the switch from player to coach was difficult, as he still wanted to compete in the water himself.

“I needed a job and took it,” said the All-American. “After one year I convinced the school to turn it into a division one program”

After four years, and turning it into a division one program, he would then coach at his alma mater, Pepperdine University.

He spent 12 years at Pepperdine where he started as assistant coach and eventually became co-head coach. In his tenure, he would help his team to a national championship in 1997 defeating USC.

He would eventually take his high playing and coaching experience to Valley as the head coach position became available. Understanding what it takes to win at high levels, he had to adapt to only having his players for two years.

Being hired in 2004, under McMillan the program would see changes as training began in June to workout throughout the entire summer into season, as well as practicing twice a day.

“He’s always done a really good job with his team,” said athletic director Dave Mallas. “His boys are very disciplined and they play very hard.”

Experiencing different high levels and knowing what it takes to develop players, he chooses not to focus on winning. The impact he has on players is his drive and he looks to make a mark on their lives.

“One of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” said sophomore Sargis Kaputikyan. “[He teaches] Being a better person, being kind to everybody and sportsmanship.”

From 2014-18 he would lead his team to five consecutive conference titles. He would become Southern State coach in 2014 and became state coach of the year in 2018.

With the great success he has had, winning is not top priority, it is growth as a person.

“I try to teach them life lessons through athletics. Responsibility, dedication, hard work, effort, teamwork, great commitment, all those buzzwords that are wonderful.” said McMillan. “My job is to help them move on.”


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