"It kind of feels like I'm getting yelled at by my mom, which scares me," said Nick Hroma, a senior captain.
The Beverly resident was slightly joking, but he seriously thinks Grunauer has brought a new attitude to the Caravan in her first season as head coach.
In his four years at the school, Hroma has played for three head coaches, including his father, Don. He believes Grunauer will bring stability to a program that uses the all-boys school's 114-year-old pool and won Mount Carmel's first-ever state championship in 1975.
The Caravan haven't been to the IHSA state finals since 2002, and, heading into Monday, they are just 2-6 this year with a 17-man roster that has limited exposure to the sport.
But Grunauer plans to be back to state in the near future, in part because of her vast water polo background. She was a member of Mother McAuley's varsity water polo team and spent several years suiting up for Chicago Park District clubs.
"I take this sport very seriously," said Grunauer, who has been a full-time juvenile probation officer for the past 10 years.
Grunauer, of Mount Greenwood, also has coached water polo at Maria High School and De La Salle Institute. She left De La Salle, where she also was head girls swimming and assistant boys swimming coach, in November for the rival Catholic school.
"I was given an opportunity to run a program how I see fit," said Grunauer, who also is the Caravan's swimming head coach.
Don Hroma served a key role in Grunauer's coming to Carmel. A Chicago Fire Department district chief, Hroma worked with Grunauer's father Mark, also a firefighter, in the 1980s on the West Side, and he's known Grunauer since she was 7 years old. Hroma said he "begged" Grunauer to replace him during numerous phone calls.
"When you're going after someone, you want to go after the best, and that's what Tina's all about," said Don Hroma, who gladly demoted himself to Grunauer's assistant. "She has brought life into the program."
Grunauer joins volleyball's Abigail Hasebroock as Mount Carmel's two female head coaches, and she is the only woman serving as head water polo coach in the Catholic League — the conference in which the Caravan compete.
Senior captain Nick Gallapo said he's enjoyed having Grunauer leading the way, not only because "she tells us what's on her mind" but for her fashion sense.
"She bought us the best warm-up gear in the school," Gallapo, of Mount Greenwood, said of the Caravan's Dri-Fit pullovers. "All of the other teams are jealous of us."
"Girls have better taste," Grunauer said.