When Barry King was in college at Fresno State, he was on track to become a college basketball coach.
During his senior year in 1987, he took a job coaching girl’s water polo – a sport he played growing up – at the urging of his brother. It was the first female team in the area and one of King’s three coaching positions at the time, along with freshmen basketball and swimming, at two different high schools.
The Madera, Calif. native later moved on to pursue an academic career and a Ph.D in exercise physiology from Indiana. While in Bloomington, he took on a coaching role with the women’s club water polo team. After three years, the team was promoted to varsity status and King landed a job he never intended to have.
“When the women’s team got elevated to varsity status in ’97, IU was too lazy to actually do a real coaching search,” King said. “A funny thing happened on my way to a degree and 19 years later I had seen quite a bit.”
King stayed at the helm of the Hoosiers women’s team until last year and tallied a 426-225-2 career record, including five conference championships and two top-10 finishes in national rankings.
On July 31, GW Athletics announced that King would take over as head coach of both the men’s and women’s water polo teams. Both Colonials squads had been without a head coach since 2016, when Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference Coach of the Year Adam Foley resigned that May.
GW had a successful first tournament under King’s leadership at the Navy Open in Annapolis last weekend. The Colonials came away with three wins, zero losses and a combined 55-22 scoring advantage against Navy, Washington and Jefferson and Salem International.
Although King will helm two teams this year, his first challenge has been coaching men for the first time since joining the collegiate ranks. Unlike the women’s side, which begins its season in February, the men’s team had less than a month to practice and get to know its new coach.
“It has been 30 years since I’ve coached guys, minus my son’s third grade basketball team,” King said. “The biggest difference is the rhythm, and the way you get into the season. The men showed up and we had only two and a half weeks till we play.”
The men’s team is coming off an improved 2016 season, during which they finished with a 15-11 record and an appearance in the MAWPC championship. The Colonials return nine of the team’s top-10 point contributors and both of the team’s top goaltenders from last year.
Senior defender Joe Behun said the Colonials’ contingent of returners helps the team maintain chemistry and sets them up for the chance at improvement.
“Our team is really close and everyone gets along really well,” Behun said. “So with the success we had last season and with losing just a few players, we can keep the momentum going.”
With nearly two decades of experience under his belt, King said he hopes that his knowledge and style will help the Colonials over the hump and into the national scene.
“There is probably a perception in the water polo world that some good things could be done here, they just haven’t quite happened yet,” King said. “I think with my familiarity with the league and the other recruiting pathways, I can help us get to where we want to be.”
After watching tape from GW games last season, King was impressed with the team’s abilities. His first interactions with the team in practice led him to believe that they had what it takes to work together and win games, he said.
Sophomore defender Jordan Blosser said the team has also been impressed by its new leader and that his balanced coaching style has been beneficial early on in the season.
“He is outgoing and will talk to us,” he said. “But at the same time he will push us in the pool and is a really good coach that has experience.”
Although all new coaches bring tactical changes and small personal distinctions to programs, King said he promotes individual freedom and opportunity for the team to operate in ways they’re comfortable, without memorizing a playbook.
King said he plans to bring specific alterations to the program, including a more mobile offensive attack that is designed to highlight the team’s top players. The three freshmen joining the program also add a tweak to the lineup because two of them are the only left-handed players on the team, he said.
“The biggest thing is that we have some lefthanders this year,” King said. “Offensively that really changes the dynamics because now you can attack both sides and you can score from every position in the pool.”
Players said they are looking to build off their early season success and eventually reach a rematch with Bucknell – last season’s conference champion – to extend their season even longer.
King said he has high expectations for the squad, but the team must not overlook opponents who have talent despite low expectations – similar to the spot the Colonials were in last year.
“Now everyone expects us to waltz back into the championship game and play against the beast,” King said. “My job is to try to get them back into that playing with that freedom that a lack of outside expectations grants you.”