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McMillan rises to the top

Story by Nicholas Orozco, Sports Editor

Water polo coach Jim McMillan teaches a swimming class at the Valley College Aquatics Center. 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)

Surrounded by walls covered in certificates from Valley College’s 54 All-Americans, sits Jim McMillan. Reclining in his high-back chair, the former semi-pro reminisces on the athletes he’s elevated as he admires his latest edition to the wall – 2023 swim coach of the year.


McMillan began his collegiate career in a similar fashion as the athletes he coaches now, at junior college in Santa Ana. His stint at community college was short-lived, as he transferred into coastal college Pepperdine University soon after. As his eligibility was running out, another opportunity arose 8,000 miles across the Pacific – 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?”


Having a small window of opportunity with a six-month visa, he played at the semi-pro level for three months and spent the remainder of the time traveling the country down under.


Once returning stateside, he was invited to coach the water polo club team at Loyola Marymount University by a former teammate. As a 25 year old, the switch from player to coach was difficult for him — he wanted to continue competing within the water.


“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.”


Transforming the once club team sport into the division one program seen today, McMillin spent four years as the head coach for the Lions. He later returned to his alma mater, Pepperdine.


Starting out as an assistant coach before eventually becoming co-head coach of the program, McMillan spent 12 years with the Waves. Under McMillan’s stewardship in 1997, the team took home a NCAA national championship title after defeating metropolitan college, USC.


After leaving the Christian college by the sea, another opportunity arose for the All-American: coaching Valley’s water polo team.


“I had never been to the valley my whole life until I came here to interview,” said the kinesiology professor.


After being hired in 2004, McMillan whipped the program into shape by beginning training months before the fall season, with workouts carrying throughout the entire summer, as well as practicing twice a day.


The Huntington Beach native drew from his experience playing and coaching at high levels and instituted changes at Valley that turned its water polo program into a force to be reckoned with. Understanding what it takes to win at high levels, he had to adapt to only having his players for two years.

Water polo coach Jim McMillan watches his players practice at the Aquatics Center at Valley College on Dec. 8, 2022. (Griffin O'Rourke/Valley Star)

“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.”


From 2014-18 he led his team to five consecutive Western State Conference titles. On top of being conference coach of the year in 2014 and 2018, he also was awarded state coach of the year in 2018.


While being highly decorated, McMillan doesn’t focus on winning. His main drive is to make an impact on his athletes’ lives through sport.


“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.”


Nearly two decades into his time at Valley, he has transformed 54 men into All-Americans, including three this past season: Hakop Ansuryan, Sargis Kaputikyan and Johnny Agazaryan. In the spring swim season, he was announced as the 2023 Swim WSC coach of the year. He expresses that his latest award is just another addition to the collection on his wall. It shines among the many accolades that his athletes have picked up.


“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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