Sonoma Valley High grad Joey Gullikson spikes water polo career

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In the world of collegiate water polo, Joey Gullikson is making a name for himself in the coaching ranks. Gullikson is in his fourth season as associate head coach for the University of Pacific Tigers, and has also coached for the U.S. Junior National Water Polo Team.

In his tenure on the Tigers coaching staff, Gullikson has helped recruit some of the team’s best players and seen the team reach the top four twice, along with a Golden Coast Conference regular season and tournament championship.

Gullikson grew up in Sonoma and attended Sassarini Elementary School from 1994-1999 and then both Altimira and Adele Harrison, where he was a part of the new middle school’s first eighth grade graduating class. He graduated from Sonoma Valley High School in 2006.

Growing up, Gullikson played baseball, but he began playing water polo in middle school thanks to his dad, who coached water polo.

“I started going to matches [and] practices with him out in Santa Rosa,” Gullikson said. “Come high school, I just fell more and more in love with water polo and saw water polo as something that would be a part of my future.”

Gullikson said that he was drawn to the physicality and tactical strategy of the game. His love for the sport translated to record-breaking numbers during his time at Sonoma Valley High School, scoring 247 goals in his four-year career.

After Sonoma Valley, Gullikson spent two years at Santa Rosa Junior College, where he began to take his water polo career seriously.

“That was really where my career kind of started to take off,” Gullikson said. “I started to realize that there were tactics in the sport and disciplining that I could really do in college if I wanted to set my mind to play water polo.”

The increased dedication paid off. Gullikson earned all-American honors for water polo in his two seasons with the Bear Cubs and scored 195 goals with the team. When Gullikson was deciding between four-year colleges, the decision became an easy one thanks to his coach at Santa Rosa Junior College, James Graham.

“Coach Graham also got the [head coaching] job [at Pacific] at the same time I was looking to transfer from Santa Rosa to a four-year college,” Gullikson said. “It made that transition a little bit easier.”

Gullikson’s impact in the pool had to wait, as he redshirted his first year due to shoulder injuries. Nonetheless, he would go on to score 65 goals, record 52 assists and 38 steals in his two years with the team. The team won Nor-Cals for the first time in school history, and finished third in state for the first time ever.

Gullikson is still the all-time leading goal-scoring SRJC player with 197 goals in two seasons.

After graduating, he went to Australia to play water polo professionally. Gullikson fell in love with the country. He was struck by how different the sporting culture is there.

“A lot of times [in the U.S.] when you compete against somebody else, you kind of have this vendetta against them,” Gullikson noted. “But in Australia … you play your games and then after the games, everybody’s going out to the pub and they’re buying you drinks at the pub and you’re good friends.”

Eventually, he returned to the U.S. in search of coaching opportunities and took the opportunity to coach his cousin’s under-10 team for experience. While applying to several high schools in search of more coaching experience, he received an offer from a noteworthy rival that he couldn’t refuse.

“At the time, the job I got was the one I wanted the least and ended up being the best job I could’ve gotten,” he said of his time at SVHS rival Justin-Siena High School. He coached both the boys and girls teams to appearances in the CIF North Coast Section D-II playoffs. Gullikson also started Bangarang Water Polo Club in Napa before he received a call from his old college coach.

“Coach Graham called me and asked if coaching college water polo was something that I wanted to do,” Gullikson recalled. “It just worked out that the assistant coach they had at the time was leaving and he was looking for an assistant coach.”

While Gullikson is extremely happy with his role at the University of Pacific, he still has the goal of head-coaching his own collegiate water polo program and also aspires to be on the coaching staff for the senior national team.

Gullikson currently lives in Stockton with his wife Kayla, a fellow Sonoma Valley High School graduate, who works as a lawyer in Sacramento. They still return to Sonoma every free weekend to visit family.

Gullikson offered some advice to future water polo players looking to break out and play at the highest levels of the sport.

“As a player, develop your craft ... everyone develops at a different time,” he advised. “Don’t sell yourself short … there’s tons of opportunities for athletes of all levels to continue playing the sport you love.”

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