Kelsey Klatt: Sister of the Coach
The UC Irvine women’s water polo team owes its bonded relationship to the year’s top player, UCI senior Kelsey Klatt, and she owes her skills in the water and values in life to her dedicated coaches.
Klatt’s father, Rick, coached her Fresno Dolphins club team in high school.
“My dad is a born leader when it comes to sports. I see my dad and brother as twins,” Klatt said.
The transition to UC Irvine was a step up in skillset, but there was a striking resemblance to the coaching style her brother, Dan, shared with her father.
“They didn’t make me go into water polo, they inspired me. They lead by example; they always put 100 percent into everything they do,” she said.
Klatt’s sports fanatic father, who played water polo and was a record-breaking swimmer at the University of New Mexico, winning a spot in the university’s hall of fame this year, encouraged his children to swim and play water polo from a young age. He’s her number one fan.
“My dad would not miss a game for the world. He would drive five hours just for a Thursday game and turn around to go back to Fresno. He loves that his kids are so passionate with sports,” Klatt says.
Twelve years her elder, UCI women’s water polo coach Dan Klatt is Kelsey’s idol and role model. He played water polo as an Anteater before making the national team, competing in the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece.
He started coaching with Southern California Water Polo Club team before he landed a job as women’s water polo coach at UCI. He is also an assistant coach to the U.S. women’s national team and helped lead the team to its first Gold Medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
“It was the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of. I watched [my brother] play years before at the Olympics in Greece. This time, though, I was older and understood his investment in the team and how much he cared about his players. He put in a lot to see them succeed,” Klatt said.
During Kelsey’s time as an Anteater, she and Dan became more like brother and sister than ever before.
“At practice, I am a player with no special treatment. Then, right when practice ends, he is my brother, I can talk to him about anything,” she said.
A 2012 first-team Big West honoree, Klatt had 20 assists and 35 goals to keep her team on its way to finishing the season with a no. 7 national ranking.
When she scored her 100th career goal this year, the announcer recognized the honor, but Klatt called to her teammates to keep on fighting to win the game.
Klatt said it’s all about the team’s success. In order to make up for a substantial change in the team’s players this year, with nine new freshmen trying to assimilate, she made team bonding a priority.
“It was a challenge at first, but we made a commitment to each other, to always stick together and take every opportunity to get to know one another,” she said. “We were so successful coming together as a team and became best friends.”
Protective of their Big West regular season title, having won it the past three years, Klatt says the game against San Diego State brought on the most pressure on the team. It was the semifinals, and winning this rivalry game would send them into the finals.
“They knew us really well, knew who our shooters were, what our strengths and weaknesses were. We had to play a perfect game to win,” she said.
The Anteaters made it into the finals and won the Big West regular season title for the fourth time.
As a center for three years, she was the utility player, the attacker. Pulling at swimsuits, she would wrestle for the ball, recording 24 steals.
In her senior year, she changed roles and stepped up as an outside shooter. For Klatt, the game shifted from an underwater wrestling match to goal execution. With three teammates redshirting this year, the team had shifted offensively.
Other teams in the league underestimated the Anteaters, though.
“I became a strong woman in the positive environment that my coaches and teammates provided for me. When you know you have people that are always supporting you, you build confidence,” Klatt said.
“It seems so natural to me. My brother and my dad taught me how to be a skillful player, but they also taught me about coaching. How to be a mentor,” she said.
Klatt has been coaching local recreational swim teams as well as the 10 and under water polo team at UC Irvine.
“I’ve had a lot of fun getting to be around kids, giving back to the community that has done so much for me,” she said.
Klatt has her fingers crossed for a chance to coach in Australia, where Andrew Rowe, UCI water polo’s assistant coach, is originally from.
Support did not stop there. Klatt’s family came out to see many of the team’s games, everyone from her mother Karyn and her stepmom Lori, to her dedicated Grandma B.
“Grandma B is one of my biggest supporters; she drove from Fresno to Santa Barbara to support our team once. She will do anything to make me feel special, and in turn become a grandma to everyone on the team,” Klatt said.
Her younger sister, Jessi, followed in the Klatt’s footsteps as she started her own first season of water polo at age 12 this year. An avid fan as well, Jessi hopes to play at UCI under Coach Dan Klatt someday.