Water Polo Where Are They Now? Sasha Poljak
Oct. 13, 2010
MALIBU, Calif. - A four-time All-American, Sasha Poljak has been as successful during his decade-long entrepreneurial career as he was during his time with the Pepperdine water polo team. Poljak guided three of his teams to the NCAA Championships from 1986-89 before leaving as the program's No. 2 all-time leading scorer with 320 goals. He also collected two PCAA Conference Player of Year awards in 1986 and 1987 and was tabbed to three all-conference first teams in 1986, 1987 and 1989.
Since graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in organizational communications, Poljak has reaped the benefits of a diverse business career that's allowed him to become a successful entrepreneur who's helped established, grown and sold three businesses in the past ten years.
Recently, the Zagreb, Croatia native was announced as a 2010 honoree of the Pepperdine Hall of Fame and will be inducted this coming Sunday, Oct. 17. He talks about receiving that honor and what his days at Pepperdine meant to him in this brief interview.
What all have you accomplished since graduating from Pepperdine University?
"Last week I just closed on the sale of my third business to a large company and until then I was the president and CEO of Valley HQ, which provided turn-key, furnished office space to small and mid-size businesses. I spent the first part of my career in corporate America, including working in senior management for the healthcare industry, but since 2001 I've turned my attention toward entrepreneurial ventures and have enjoyed establishing and growing businesses."
How did a Pepperdine education help get you where you are today?
"After I came to Pepperdine from the socialist regime of the former Yugoslavia, I realized that everything is possible and there are no limits.
"I can't put my finger on any one thing - a class, professor, teammate or coach - that made me who I am today, but rather it was that collective experience of spending four to five years dealing with people of different backgrounds while being an impressionable age. And I always kept my eyes open for new ideas that I could later apply in life, especially those relating to improving morals, ethics and human relationships.
"I'm a believer in the saying, `For those of whom much is given, much shall be expected,' and I feel that I've been blessed both physically and intellectually."
And how much more did you gain from being on the Waves' water polo team?
"Being a student-athlete at the Division I level requires an intense amount of discipline, and as a result my grades were better during the regular season than the offseason because I was busier. I tend to perform better under pressure.
"My teammates and I also took a lot of pride in taking a small university to the heights of the NCAA Tournament year after year despite the obstacles we faced. We didn't have a lot of tools to work with. We didn't have a deep bench. Pride carried us and it's an emotion that's stayed with me my entire life.
"I created invaluable friendships with the guys I played with and it's great to reunite with them every two to three years. Our conversations are open-ended and we can pick up right where we left off at any time. There's a real sense of accomplishment found among all of us."
What are some of your favorite memories from your playing days?
"Besides winning games and experiencing other great moments in the pool, my favorite memories relate to what I learned from the coaching staff. Rick Rowland recruited me to Pepperdine and he took a great deal in pride in everything he did, from the minutest task on up to coaching us at the NCAA Championships. He walked the walk and expected all of us to do the same.
"Terry Schroeder picked up where Rick left off, and he always remained such a giving individual even when we were acting as selfish brats. I remember thinking then as I do now, `This is leadership.'
"Looking back, Pepperdine water polo provided a real family atmosphere and the unconditional support of the coaches trickled down to the players. There was always a sense of togetherness found at the pool that was both unique and special."
What were your thoughts on being named to the Pepperdine Hall of Fame?
"The first words that came to my mind were `stunning' and `humbling.' And I am humbled to be associated with this year's deeply talented class of honorees - true professionals who have experienced success prior to, during and after their days at Pepperdine. I was taken away from sports and dealt with an early retirement while I was in my 20's, so again, to be inducted alongside these great people and professional athletes is very humbling."
When you notice that teams, individuals or business professionals are struggling to get headed in the right direction, what's your advice to them?
"First of all they have to remember that the bad times never last, and that there's no other way but to work hard in order to diminish failure and increase success. And to add to that, `It's your attitude, not your aptitude, that will determine your altitude.' These are clichés in a way, but they are true and can be applied to teams either in the workplace or within athletics.