It’s a known fact. New coaches and a young team composed of mostly freshmen and sophomores means rebuilding time. The Radford University Swimming and Diving program is overcoming the stereotype, however, creating splashes in the pool with a more successful season than last with a 7-10 overall and 4-6 conference record this season.
For first year Head Swimming and Diving Coach Ian Coffey, it hasn’t been easy. Entering a new school with a struggling team and fresh faces, working to change the pool atmosphere was first priority.
Bringing 13 years of coaching experience to RU, the ultimate goal Coffey had in mind was improvement. Through hard work this season, the Highlanders will head to Athens, Ga. for the CCSA Championships for the three-day event that begins on Thursday, Feb. 21 in hopes of breaking records and winning heats.
“We’re sharpening our skills, finishing up our season,” said Coffey. “We’ve worked so hard; it’s time to get the rewards.”
No matter their relative youth, the Highs knocked some unexpected teams out of the water this season. RU won its only CCSA home meet to a striking score of 123-68 against UNC Asheville on Oct. 20. When the team hosted the Highlander Invitational in November, RU tallied 664.5 points to take second place behind conference rival Campbell University. The team scheduled other challenging match-ups against James Madison University and Marshall University in November and December.
In what may prove to be a momentum swing going into the championships, the Highs closed out the season with impressive wins over Howard University and North Carolina A&T.
“It gives us motivation for CCSAs,” said junior Haley Schweitzer. “It helps us be prepared and gives us a boost in confidence.”
As pointed out by veteran members of the team, there is a new positive air in the pool. Diving Coach Patrick Pyrch is one channel that has helped the RU team to new success. With his experiences both competing and coaching, Pyrch has helped junior diver Skye Hickling earn her second career CCSA Diver of the Week award, also pushing her to grab two top-5 finishes in the final meet of the season.
“We’re taking three divers to the championship and we’re trying to get all of them to score us team points,” said coach Pyrch. “Skye has an outstanding shot of being at the top of the conference.”
With the season coming to a close, it’s been important for the team to reflect on the little strides they have made along with the closer-knit bond that has brought the team together.
Freshman Sarah Fredericksen broke a school record in the 1000 free with a time of 10:52.38 at the CCSA Duals on Saturday, Feb. 2. Sophomore Claire Doherty also found success in the pool with a top finish in the 100 fly at a time of 1:01.81 and a season best in the 200 free with a time of 2:04.80 in the final meet of the season.
“The energy we’ve had has impacted the way we’ve been doing,” said Fredericksen. “Coach Coffey gets us all excited so we can be joking and serious at the same time.”
Although Coffey and the team have brought improvements to the program, the squad admits there is still much room for everyone to keep getting better. Conference powerhouses like CU, Florida Gulf Coast and Liberty University still run the top in the CCSA. However, Coffey and the Highlanders are looking forward to show their new strengths at the championships. Even if the team is lacking in experience with seven freshmen swimmers and divers, the talent will continue to develop each season.
As the team heads down to the University of Georgia, swimming and diving in a sensational facility where the deck space is large enough to allow for loud, expressive cheering, the Highs will be sure to get excited about the elite competition that lies ahead.