Coming back to coach

Water polo coaches share their experiences from playing for MVHS to coaching


Water polo coaches Himani Kukreja and Shravya Guda graduated from MVHS in 2012 after four years on the Girls Water Polo team.

Lillian Wang and Michelle Zheng

The long lasting friendship between MVHS alumni ‘12 Himani Kukreja and Shravya Guda, who both now coach the Varsity Girls Water Polo team, did not start off with your typical face-to-face interaction but rather a ball-to-face incident. During practice in the gym, Guda was taking shots on Kukreja before accidentally throwing a weight ball at Kukreja’s face. 

Although Guda jokes that such incidents are occupational hazards and that water polo is a “drown or be drowned sport,” the sport’s intensity ultimately drew her to it. On the other hand, Kukreja decided to join the MVHS team as a goalie due to water polo’s uniqueness. 

In spite of their different reasons for playing water polo, both agree that some of their favorite memories in high school stem from moments they spent with their team such as going out to Chipotle after a game and eating the garlic bread Guda’s parents would bring. The team also traveled to Hawaii every year for training and team bonding, a tradition organized by their coach Ron Freeman. These incentives pushed the team to work harder and brought them closer together. 

“[On] those [trips], we only had each other and no one else, so [we] had to get through it [as a team, which] brought us all closer together,” Kukreja said. “It also helps instill that toughness and [the mindset of] putting all of [your] effort into [playing the sport]. When we came back, we saw how much better we were because we [had] been doing all of that extra hard work.”

Varsity Boys Water Polo coach and MVHS alum ‘18 Lauren Tang, who played as a driver on the water polo team, also remembers team bonding and home games — especially her senior night — as some of her fondest memories. She reflects that the pool deck almost served as a “second home” to her during her time at MVHS. 

Although Tang and Guda continued to play water polo throughout college after graduating, Kukreja’s college didn’t offer a water polo program and Guda eventually stopped because she would have to spend an hour removing her piercings every time she played. Still, all three alumni took up Athletic Director Nick Bonacorsi’s offer to coach the MVHS Water Polo teams this year.  

Water polo coaches Himani Kukreja and Shravya Guda (both on the left end of the second row) pose for a team photo in their senior year in 2011. Photo courtesy of Shravya Guda

Although Tang didn’t know when, she expected to end up back at MVHS at some point because of her sense of responsibility for the MVHS water polo program. She says that taking on the head coach role felt like a “big full circle moment” and has been a rewarding experience so far. 

“Seeing how hard these boys work and [how] they want to do better, [how] they want to win, is motivating for me as a coach,” Tang said. “I’ve always loved this program and wanted to give back to this program in some way, and I have as a volunteer, but I think being the head coach is really fun.”

After playing for MVHS, Tang keeps in mind that student athletes have heavy workloads, but she also expects them to learn to manage the responsibility of playing on a school sports team. Similarly, Guda uses her experience as a student athlete to work on developing a strong mindset and physical training with the current team.  

“A lot of what our coaches here drilled into us was accountability and owning up to where you can improve and having a growth mindset,” Guda said. “I’ve taken that from school to college. I’m still an athlete, I still have a coach, so I can still use that skill, and I like to be able to teach that here.”

On the other hand, Kukreja’s previous experiences coaching soccer have led her to develop a player-centered approach to coaching that focuses on transparency and communication. She believes the skills players learn from being on a school sports team can be lifelong, so she “[tries] to focus on drilling that into the girls, that [they’re] here to play but [they’re] also here to learn.”  

“Our goals for the team this season are for them to learn the game and also for them to learn skills [like] mental toughness, sportsmanship, grit, intensity and being able to operate in a team environment,” Kukreja said.

Tang has high hopes for Boys Water Polo’s performance this season, but she also hopes to counter MVHS’s competitive atmosphere — which she believes can result in an occasional lack of team camaraderie — by training the team to uplift each other while holding their teammates accountable. 

“I want to make sure that everyone is learning and understanding why we’re doing the drills and why we’re doing this conditioning set,” Tang said. “And [that] if you get punished, there’s a reason for it. I think that’s important in coaching and I also want to make sure that the boys are having fun as well. Water polo was such a good experience for me [and] I want it to be the same for them.”