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BOGACZYK: Herd Swimming/Diving a Summer Sport, too

June 4, 2015

By JACK BOGACZYK

HERDZONE.COM COLUMNIST

            HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Storm or shine this summer, Marshall Coach Bill Tramel has the same anti-lifeguard message for his swimming and diving team.

            "Everybody into the water!"

            After changing the culture in the Herd program, Tramel said it's time to change the results as Marshall points toward his fourth season in charge, making strides in Conference USA.

            So, it's about more than the four-month season and preparations that begin in Fitch Natatorium once team members return to campus for the 2015-16 school year.

            "It's really a year-round sport, like all of them," Tramel said. "And so you work in summer, because you always need to be improving. And one of the themes we have is you need to return to campus in the fall as a better athlete than you were when you left campus in the spring.


 

 

            "Whether that is getting faster, learning a new dive, improving your strength and/or fitness level -- all of that -- that's what it's going to take to really get to where this team's goals are. And getting better is uncomfortable. You have to push yourself beyond your personal limits. The people who choose to do that are the ones who are going to continue to be successful.

            "It's kind of like the people who decide to take a double major rather than just one. That can be uncomfortable and a test, but I'm going to argue that they'll have more job opportunities once they get out into the real world, so maybe have a chance to be more successful.

            "We need our team to embrace that kind of attitude."

            The Herd finished fourth -- a school-best -- in its 10th C-USA Championships in February. Marshall's performance was 156 points better than the previous season. And on the school's top-10 times list, 53 percent were recorded in the past season ... and an overwhelming amount of talent returns.

            Next season?

            "The goal is to catch who's in front of us," Tramel said. "I've said before that I didn't come here to babysit; I came here to win. That's what I've been associated with my whole career -- programs that win, programs that strive for championships, for individual titles and that hasn't changed.

            "What we accomplished this year, in a lot of ways, we as a coaching staff expected to accomplish. It was something we had been talking about since I got here. So, the next hurdle is to catch the people (in Conference USA) ahead of us, and right now that's FIU and Rice (third-place finisher Western Kentucky has suspended its program).

            "We want to win an individual title, and we're in position to do that next season. And we want to see if we can qualify someone for the NCAA Championships. We achieved a few `B cuts' this year, but did not get invited."

            Marshall has had only two individual C-USA titles in its 10 league seasons. Milla Kuurto, a two-time Mid-American Conference Swimmer of the Year before the Herd changed affiliation, won the 200 butterfly title in the first Herd appearance in the C-USA meet, in 2006.

            The last Herd swimmer with a C-USA title was Michaela Sceli, who won the 100 breaststroke in 2008. That time is still the MU record.

            Under Tramel and assistant coaches Ian Walsh and Andrew Helmich (diving), Marshall's recent rise in the pool was rooted in a strong, 13-member recruiting class last year that improved more than team depth. To date, the Herd has signed seven newcomers for 2015-16.

            Has Tramel found it easier getting prospects interested when they see the positive direction of the program?

            "Recruiting is always a struggle," Tramel said. "I had the good fortune of having a peripheral relationship with the late, great Dean Smith (at North Carolina, where Tramel was an assistant coach). Once, in passing, he asked me why I was in the office so late. And I told him I was making recruiting calls, but I told him, `It's OK, because it's easy.'

            "And he said, `Don't ever say it's easy, `cause it's not.' It seems like the obvious, but just when you start getting traction, your expectation level and your needs change. So, when we signed the 13 we needed depth. We needed bodies. We needed people to fill out the lineup, regardless of how fast they were. Obviously, you have to be at a certain level to compete in Division I, but we went out and got what we needed. We needed numbers.

            "And now that we have depth, we need faster people, more skillful divers and that's not so say the athletes we have right now aren't good enough, but at this point, we need better people to win this conference. Is our current personnel capable of winning this conference? Yes, however they have to push themselves to that level.

            "It becomes harder now to get the ones we need to win the conference championship. Once we win the conference championship, it will become harder still to take a relay to the NCAA Championships, to score individuals at a national championship. And once we do that, it will become harder to place in the top 20 in the national championships and so on up the line."

            The Herd coach called 2015-16 a crucial season for a program taking the next step.

            "We're at another crossroads with our program right now," he said. "We can double down on what we're doing and make a run at the teams ahead of us. And if we do not do that -- let's hang out where we are, and I know the coaching staff and I hope the team does not just want to hang out ... I believe we're ahead of the teams we should beat now. They shouldn't catch us, although winning is fragile. We have to understand that we still have to do the work."

            The Herd's seven recruits for next season include Heather Lonkert, a transfer from Rider -- where Herd diver Kelly Toner was a team member until she moved to Marshall. Tramel lost five seniors, most notably distance specialists Kacey Preun and Kaley Gregory.

            "We're better coming (into 2015-16) than we were," Tramel said. "We graduated 71 (C-USA) points by swimmers, and I figured lifetime bests of incoming swimmers, and if they were on this year's team instead of in high school they'd have scored 80 points.

            "We scored 35 graduating diving points, and the diver (Lonkert) we added, I believe she can compete for our top spot. (Megan) Wolons scored 44 points, and Lonkert should score equal amounts. We're losing 71 points, gaining 115 points. So, we're going to be better."

            Tramel used Wolons, a rising junior from Williamsburg, Va., as an example of what he wants from team members this summer. Wolons reached the podium at the C-USA Championships twice, finishing second in the platform and tied for third in the 1-meter.

            "Megan has an opportunity to win a conference title," said Tramel, 46. "We have a private Facebook page for our team and she posted a video of her learning two new dives this summer, with a harder degree of difficulty, which means she can increase her score, if you can hit it. And she's working on those two new dives, training in Richmond.

            "We have other athletes training around the country and in Canada, and those are the things you need to do to improve. She's going to have much greater odds of winning a conference title if she has these two dives and she hits them, so her scores are going to go up. And that's the kind of thing we need people to embrace.

            "And we need to embrace that more than we did last summer. The frustrating thing we ran into early this past season is nobody did the job last summer. We'd talked about goals. We wanted to win the West Virginia State Games. We wanted to beat Duquesne and not finish last at conference meet. And we accomplished all of our goals except that first one early in the season because we didn't have a lot of people who did the job needed over the summer.

            "We performed very, very well eventually, but we weren't ready early. Hopefully, the season that we had will motivate the team to, like we said, double down, instead of being satisfied where we are right now.

            "I have no doubt in my mind -- especially now -- that we can win the Conference USA Championship. No doubt in my mind. Our graduating class from this coming year is one swimmer (Alex Black)."

            The Herd had one other top-three finisher in the C-USA meet -- freshman Nele Albers placed third in the 400 IM. Albers, from Germany, was among the top rookies in the Marshall program that rewrote that top-10 times list.

            "Now, we need someone to step up and fill a hole in backstroke," Tramel said. "We need someone to really be the elite-level breaststroker we need for our relays. We recruited a bunch of butterfly and we also have Chloe Parsemain, who's our No. 1 butterfly returning for her junior year after a stellar year. In sprint freestyle, it appears we're going to have people who are healthy, people who are fast.

            "We lost two great distance swimmers to graduation (Preun, Gregory). We need people to step up and fill that vacuum. Our IMs look great and we've got another great one coming in. We should be very solid there. (Assistant coach) Andrew Helmich has done unbelievable things with our diving program and another year with him and one diver coming in, our diving should be strong.

            "We have lots of good things going on."

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