Heading East After Successful Stint at UCLA, Litvak Primed to Guide PU Men’s Water Polo
HEADING EAST: Dustin Litvak surveys the action during his time as an assistant water polo coach at UCLA. Southern California native Litvak is coming east to become the head coach of the Princeton University men’s water polo team and serve as an assistant for the Tiger women’s water polo program.(Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)
By Bill Alden
Dustin Litvak was living the dream of thousands around Los Angeles, landing a job with Jimmy Kimmel Live! shortly after graduating from Pepperdine University in 2001.
Starting as an intern, Litvak rose to production assistant for the hit show, running its green room and hoping to get into the writing side.
But Litvak turned his back on Hollywood in 2003 to follow his love for water polo, having coached the boys’ squad at his high school alma mater, Agoura High, in the L.A. area while he was in college.
“I decided that my heart was in coaching,” said Litvak. “I had a strong passion for the game and working with young people and helping them achieve their goals.”
Having made that decision, Litvak threw his heart and soul into learning the coaching craft, attending clinics, going to college games, and taking trips to Europe, staying with clubs in Croatia and Montenegro. He helped turn Agoura into a powerhouse, guiding the program to its first-ever CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) Championship in 2007 and three more crowns in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Litvak earned Marmonte League Coach of the Year nine straight years and was a four-time CIF Division IIII Coach of the Year and a seven-time Los Angeles Daily News Coach of the Year.
In addition, he was the technical director at the Los Angeles Water Polo Club from 2012-17 and has coached at several levels with the USA water polo program. He also had a stint coaching the women’s program in Occidental College and then spent the last five seasons at UCLA, working with both the men’s and women’s water polo teams.
Now Litvak is heading east to become the head coach of the Princeton University men’s water polo team and serve as an assistant for the Tiger women’s water polo program.
For Litvak, the decision to leave the west coast for Princeton turned out to be a no-brainer.
“My goal was always to be a head coach at the NCAA level and I was looking for what opportunities that may arise,” said Litvak.
“There isn’t as much turnover in water polo as there is in coaching other sports, like football and basketball. There aren’t as many programs in water polo. Luis [former Princeton men’s and women’s head coach Luis Nicolao] decided to leave and the job came open and I was interested. There are players at Princeton I have coached or have coached against, mostly with the club. It was really interesting to me and I started to get more information about it. I was fortunate enough to get a couple of phone interviews and liked it more and more, the more I heard.”
Litvak feels fortunate to have gotten extensive experience at UCLA, working under Bruin men’s and women’s head coach Adam Wright.
“One of the great things about working with Adam is that not only is he unbelievable at understanding how to teach the game, and I learned a lot from that, but he also really delegates a lot and shares a lot with his assistants,” said Litvak, who helped the UCLA men’s team win national titles in 2014 and 2015 and the Bruin women to NCAA second place finishes in 2015 and 2017.
“I learned about every step of the process with my experience on the men’s side and the women’s side. There are no secrets. Everything is shared between us and that really helped my development.”
As a result of his growth at UCLA, Litvak sees himself as well suited to thrive at Princeton.
“In my coaching career, whether it is high school, club, or collegiate, academics have always been important to me,” said Litvak.
“I thought that was a really good fit with Princeton. With all the teams that I have coached, we have always stressed doing as well in the classroom as we do in the pool and staying on top of those things. Also, there are a lot of west coast athletes on the roster; I have a really good pipeline as far as knowing all of the coaches out there and having relationships with them. I can bring some of the levels I have been exposed to coaching-wise out there as well.”
In forging relationships with his new Princeton players, Litvak is emphasizing basics.
“My coaching philosophy is based on doing a lot of fundamentals, being in the best condition that we can be, and really stressing our defense first, whether it is our frontcourt defense or our five-on six,” said Litvak.
“I am just really making it clear what we are looking for is competitiveness. These are clearly students who are competitive in the classroom and they got to Princeton for a reason, not just because of what they are able to do in the water but more so what they are able to do in the classroom. We want them to be able to compete when they are in the water and make the most out of our time together.”
Having coached both men and women players at UCLA, Litvak is looking forward to being involved with both programs at Princeton, working with longtime Tiger assistant Derek Ellingson, who was elevated to women’s head coach and will remain as an assistant for the men.
“My emphasis year round will be with the men but I am excited to help out Derek with the women’s side as well,” said Litvak.
“They both bring different challenges, opportunities, and excitement. I really enjoy working with both genders. My priority is the men, but I will be with the women as much as I can.”
With the men’s preseason practices starting this week as the Tigers prepare to get their 2018 campaign underway in September, Litvak is primed to get to work.
“I hear that is a really strong culture and that the guys get along really well. I want to try to keep it as strong as possible,” said Litvak.
“It is important to me to have that kind of culture and the right kind of athletes who are in the program. Clearly some of my tactics are going to be a little different so we will be having them learn the system that I am comfortable working with. We want to have a successful season and continue to be in that final game with a chance to win the CWPA (Collegiate Water Polo Association). I am excited to continue the legacy that Luis built and see what we can do to represent the school, community, and the alumni the best way we can.”