Sandy Nitta began her water polo career first by participating in competitive swimming and developing her swimming skills. A member of Hall of Fame Coach Don Gambril’s City of Commerce Swim Team, she became a member of the 1964 USA Olympic Swim Team competing in the breaststroke. After her competitive career, she coached swimming for a few years, but soon turned her attention to the coaching and development of water polo, which has stayed with her ever since.
In 1971, Sandy started the City of Commerce Water Polo program and coached the team to many national championships. She soon moved into positions of leadership, serving as the USA’s Women’s International Chairperson from 1976 to 1978. From 1980 to the present, she has given water polo clinics all around the world including New Zealand, Australia, England, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Singapore, India, France, Germany, Brazil and Mexico. In 1977, Commerce hosted the first-ever Women’s International Tournament in the United States and Sandy was the Tournament Director. She was one of the original coaches who began the push for the inclusion of women’s water polo at the Olympic Games, which became a reality in 2000, Sydney.
Since her beginning days, Sandy has had an extensive head water polo coaching career in women’s water polo. She was the first Head Coach for the United States Junior National Team (1979). For 17 years (1980-1996, 1998), she was head coach of the USA Senior National Team. She was also head coach of the Queensland, Australia State Team (1996) and the Brazilian Senior National Team (1999-2002) where she coached at the first Pan American Games to include women’s water polo and the first-ever wins against the United States by the Brazilian team. For two years (2000-2002), she was coach of the Tualatin Hills Water Polo Club in Portland, Oregon and then Head Coach of Team Vegas in Las Vegas (1992-2000) and currently Team Vegas/Henderson (2002 to present). Other positions of leadership include: U.S. Water Polo Masters Advisory Committee (2008-2011), USA Water Polo Hall of Fame Committee (2006-2010), USA Water Polo Board of Directors (2010 to present), U.S. Olympic Development Director of the West Region (2011 to present) and Co-Chairperson of the U.S.A. USA Water Polo Coaches Association.
Sandy was coach to the gold medal team at the 2006 FINA Masters World Championships and the women’s 50+ division at the 2012 Senior Games. She is the first and only female water polo coach in the U. S. Water Polo Hall of Fame and in her honor, the “Sandy Nitta Distinguished Women’s Coach Award” is presented annually by United States Water Polo.
Sandy’s greatest influence to her water polo players under her guidance is her character. As a competitive swimmer, she was short making it difficult competing against taller swimmers. She would be leading by a body length before the turn and come out of the turn a half body length behind. But her drive and toughness led to a position on the Olympic Team. She fought for the “underdog”. When she began coaching the City Of Commerce Water Polo Team, it consisted mostly of lower income, Hispanic families who also were not tall nor came from competitive backgrounds. Yet, they achieved success. When coaching the USA Women’s National Team in the 1980’s, she had 125 to 150 players across the entire United States. Even when coaching them outside of the California hot-bed of water polo, Sandy achieved success from her players. It shows greatness and sound character.
Sandy enjoys fresh water fishing, playing video games and playing poker. But you may want to think twice before putting any money on the poker table. She made it to the final table at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas - a real smart competitor.