Denny Harper

From Openwaterpedia

Denny Harper is the head coach of the University of California San Diego men's water polo program.


  • 13-time ACWPC National Coach of the Year (1996, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)
  • 18-time WWPA Coach of the Year (1983, 1984, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015)

Water Polo Coaching Career

Completing his 36th season as head men's water polo coach in 2015, Harper has established UCSD as one of the top programs in the country. Through his time with the Tritons, Harper has amassed a career record of 616-456-4.

In 2015, Harper guided the Tritons to an overall record of 15-15. The men’s team captured the WWPA tournament title by defeating No. 9 UC Davis 6-5. UCSD qualified for the NCAA Championship for the 14th time and finished fourth. Harper capped off the season by being bestowed the WWPA Coach of the Year Award for his third consecutive year and the ACWPC Coach of the Year Award for the fifth straight time. Chase Cockerill was named All-American ACWPC Division II Player of the Year. Nick Alexander and Jack Turner were also named All-Americans and Tyler Mancuso was an honorable mention selection.

In 2014, Harper earned his milestone 600th win on Nov. 23 in the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) Championship game. The No. 6 Tritons took down No. 17 Loyola Marymount, 12-6, for Harper’s 17th WWPA title. The win also gave UCSD the league’s automatic qualifier into the 2014 NCAA Championship for Harper’s 13th appearance. The Tritons went on to finish fourth in the NCAA Championships, their best finish since 2011. Harper concluded his stellar season by being honored as the NCAA Division II Coach of the Year the eighth time since 2000 and his fourth consecutive honor.

Harper led the Tritons to a 16th WWPA championship and a 12th appearance at the NCAA Championship in school history in 2013. UCSD played in the first ever National Collegiate play-in game, falling to St. Francis 6-5 to narrowly miss the final four team bracket at the NCAA Championship. The Tritons finished 14-14 overall and placed six student-athletes on the All-Conference teams for the second consecutive season.

In 2012, Harper led the Tritons into the WWPA Championship game as they cruised through the regular season with a 14-7 record. UCSD earned 10 wins over nationally ranked opponents throughout the season. The Tritons took second place after dropping the championship match to Air Force 9-7. Harper had six student-athletes receive All-WWPA honors.

In 2011, Harper led the Tritons to their 15th WWPA title by defeating No. 12 UC Davis in the WWPA Championship game in La Jolla on November 20. The Tritons made their 11th appearance at the NCAA Championship. In addition to his team's success, Harper was named WWPA Coach of the Year for the 16th time and Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches Division II Coach of the Year for the fifth time.

The 2010 Tritons reached .500 for the second consecutive season, going 13-13 and finishing in fourth place at the WWPA Championships. Harper had four of his players placed on All-WWPA Teams, in addition to having four named ACWPC All-Americans.

During the 2009 campaign, the Tritons went 14-14 and narrowly missed a trip to the NCAA Final Four. In the Western Water Polo Association Championship Tournament, UCSD pushed past Redlands and Whittier in the early rounds before eventually falling to Loyola Marymount in the title game, 5-4. At the conclusion of the season, the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches named Harper as Coach of the Year. It was Harper's fourth ACWPC Coach of the Year honor since 2000.

The Tritons battled LMU in the 2008 WWPA title game, dropping a 12-10 decision. UCSD ended the season at 20-11, marking the sixth time in the decade that the Tritons had reached at least 20 victories. On Sept. 20, 2008, Harper earned career win No. 500 as UCSD defeated Cal Baptist, 14-8, as part of the NorCal Tournament.

During the 2006 season, the Tritons set a program record in wins, completing a 26-6 season with their 14th WWPA title and a third-place finish at the NCAA National Championship tournament. After the remarkable campaign, Harper was named the ACWP Coach of the Year. Additionally in 2006, Ty Lackey finished up his Triton career being named to the ACWP All-American Division I team and a national finalist for the Peter J. Cutino National Player of the Year Award.

In 2005, UCSD finished the year at 24-8, which was at the time, a school record for wins. With multiple victories against Division I schools in Long Beach State, UC Davis, LMU, UC Irvine, Saint Francis and a total of 19 victories against ranked opponents, UCSD climbed as high as No. 5 in the national polls and finished the season with a No. 10 national ranking.

The 20-12 2004 season allowed for young players to gain valuable experience while the roster featured just one graduating senior. The Tritons secured several wins over Division I powers, such as LBSU, UCD, LMU and UC Santa Barbara. Harper was named the 2004 ACWP Coach of the Year after leading UCSD to yet another 20 win season. It was his second honor of this type, as he earned his first Coach of the Year award in 2000.

The 2002 squad went 19-13 and earned the program's ninth NCAA berth by winning its 13th WWPA title at the Canyonview Aquatic Center on the La Jolla campus. The 2000 campaign also proved to be a banner year as the Tritons defeated USC, 9-8, in a national semifinal in Malibu to become the first non-Division I team to play in the NCAA Men's Water Polo Championship Game.

The Tritons have advanced to the NCAA Championship on 12 different occasions, finishing second for the first time ever in 2000, third in 1995, 1998 and 2006, fourth in 1999, 2002 and 2011, sixth in 1989, 1991 and 1992, and eighth in 1993. In 1995, Harper's Tritons became the first Division III team to advance to the NCAA Final Four, repeating the feat in 1998 and at Canyonview in 1999.

Under Harper's direction, UCSD has proved to be a regular contender in the WWPA since the league began sponsoring championships in 1981. In 28 seasons, the Tritons have captured 16 titles and 11 runner-up trophies. UCSD has been consistently ranked among the top-12 teams in the NCAA rankings, including reaching as high as No. 3 in the nation in 2006, after an upset win over UCLA.

At the 2008 FINA Masters World Championships in Perth, Australia, Harper guided the San Francisco Olympic Club's 45+ team to the silver medal, losing the championship game to the same Russian squad that won the 1980 Olympics. The 40+ squad won the Bronze medal, and the 30+ team won the Gold medal.

Harper concluded an outstanding tenure as coach of the UCSD women's water polo team in 1999, winning five USA Water Polo crowns, one national runner-up effort and two national third-place trophies. He has also coached the highly-successful Sunset San Diego club teams, leading the men's team to three Indoor National Championships and the Sunset women's team to eight national titles. The coach also led the UCSD men into the Guinness Book of Records when his squad played 26 continuous hours of water polo on April 7-8, 1989. Harper, a 1978 graduate of San Diego State University, began coaching at Rancho Alamitos High School, Indio High School and SDSU before coming to UCSD.

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