July 17, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Everybody in the pool!
Swimming and summertime go together, and that’s a concept Marshall Coach Bill Tramel plans to increasingly push with his team.
Tramel, the Herd women’s swimming and diving coach of 14 months, said if Marshall wants to compete for Conference USA championships, the program needs a more aggressive approach to training with more involvement by student-athletes.
So, to boost potential offseason work, he has followed the summer plan of many major programs and founded the Marshall Aquatics Club, affiliated with USA Swimming.
Tramel has had four Herd swimmers – Kaley Gregory, Victoria Mesner, Heather Moore and Lauren Hurd – here for the entire summer – working with Marshall Aquatics, which went to two meets for its debut.
“One of the things I wanted to do when I took the Marshall job is put together a training program with student-athletes that were staying in the Huntington area over the summer,” Tramel said. “We have swimmers who live in area and also a number taking summer school classes.
“Swimming is a year-round sport, and you need to be training and improving throughout the year. When you take off an extended period of time, you get out of shape and then when you come back at the beginning of the collegiate season, really, the whole first semester is then getting back into shape.
“It’s a very demanding sport and it takes time to get back into shape. In reality, when you’re not getting back into shape until January, you’re really only training a few weeks to prepare for the conference championship meet.”
The Herd finished sixth in the first Conference USA meet under Tramel last February. The test will get stiffer, however, with the C-USA realignment. Old Dominion, FIU, FAU and North Texas enter in women’s swimming, with Western Kentucky certain for 2014-15, but perhaps getting an early entry in the sport this season, Tramel said.
“I spoke to one former ACC coach who said if you can get the kids back to the times where they were the year before, not improve, but the same times or close to same times, he considers the season a success,” the Herd coach said. “To me, that was so depressing because it’s not improvement, if you’re going the same exact times over and over.
“Where the program here is right now we especially need more people that can contribute points at the championship meet and right now we just have a handful. And if we’re not improving, we’re still just going to have a handful.
“And when we’re heading into the realigned conference, we’ve got four teams coming into the conference this season that are better than us right now and then Western Kentucky, which they may let in for swimming a year early. So, that’s at least five new teams that are better than us right now. We need to do something, instead of being sixth out of sixth and last, we’ll be ninth out of ninth (Houston and SMU are gone this season, with East Carolina and Tulane leaving after 2013-14).
“I certainly didn’t come here to do that.”
Hence, Tramel has created Marshall Aquatics, which gets no funding from the Herd athletic department, by NCAA rules. But these offseason programs are very popular among top Division I programs.
“It’s like any of the other collegiate programs around the country,” Tramel said. “They all might not be named exactly after the school; some are named for the mascot. Georgia is the Athens Bulldogs, Michigan is Club Wolverine, but we named it Marshall Aquatics to help with the Marshall swimming and diving branding and developing the name of the Marshall program.
“We’re doing a lot of work trying to get word out on the program, contacting coaches in person, by phone, and we have gotten some lukewarm feedback, ‘Oh, Bill, it’s nice, you did a good job other places, (as an assistant in the Big Ten, ACC and Big 12), and you coached some of my swimmers in the past.
“But when we walked onto the pool deck (at the USA Swimming Southern Sectional at Georgia) this past weekend with Marshall Aquatics, it was like I got a sense of, ‘Oh, you’re serious.’ It wasn’t just, ‘You’re the coach at Marshall now, yeah, whatever.’ We have four swimmers. Louisville probably had 20-30 kids there. Wildcat Aquatics, Kentucky, had a ton.”
Tramel has made other changes to advance summertime work for his program. He and diving coach Jim Zagaria moved the bulkhead in the Fitch Natatorium pool, creating as close to a long course (50 meters, the USA Swimming and Olympics staple) as possible. NCAA teams swim 25-yard courses. The bulkhead move has created a 37½-meter offseason course for the Herd.
Tramel has signed six recruits for 2013-14, with possibly more to come. As new swimmers enter the program, the coach’s encouragement to stay here for summer swimming will be stronger.
“Not everybody in college swimming stays over the summer but a good majority stay with their coaches over the summer,” Tramel said. “Would I like that? Exactly.
“We’ve taken a giant step for the program, a giant step, and it says something for athletes involved, because they’re doing this on their own dime, spending their own money, their own time. It’s a tremendous commitment they’ve made.
“But beyond that, it was a huge statement Marshall made when we walked onto the pool deck, with teams down there like Auburn, Georgia, North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisville, all BCS schools. And I’m kind of proud of this: We were the only little guy around.
“I hate the word ‘mid-major.’ I don’t look at us as a mid-major. I look at us as a Division I program. I never want to use ‘mid-major.’ I also don’t want to look at us as the little guy. We want to play with the big guys, play against Kentucky, some of these other ones in the area and I believe that we can compete with these schools, but I felt really proud to be the only school on our level that was there at Georgia.”
The Marshall Aquatics foursome has been working out nine times over six days a week, with each session 2 hours or 90 minutes in length. Tramel said he wants – and the Herd needs – more numbers in the Fitch Natatorium pool, but he grasps the situation.
“By NCAA rules, the athletic department cannot fund Marshall Aquatics,” Tramel said. “I pay my own expenses, the swimmers pay their own expenses, but it’s about the commitment. It probably cost me $500-600 last weekend, and I don’t really like that, but it’s what it’s going to take to build this program.
“And I want to make this clear, it’s not that Marshall is unwilling to pay my expenses; they are not allowed to pay my expenses based on current NCAA legislation. That’s the way it is, but I said it when I came here and I’ll say it again – I’m committed to building a champion here and whatever it takes within the rules, I’m going to do that.
“I don’t accept mediocrity; I don’t think anyone should, and when you look at this program and everything this university has to offer, failure is not going to happen. Chad Pennington says on the Vision Campaign, ‘We’re not going be a victim of the word No. We’re going to figure out how to do it and we’re going to do it.’ And that’s what we plan to do.”
Tramel said as he recruits to improve the program, he wants more among the Herd to think about and do their training when they go home for a Thanksgiving holiday, with Wednesday and Friday pool time surrounding a Thursday of turkey and family.
He said the image of the MU swim program is slowly changing among those club coaches who can help funnel swimmers to the Herd.
“As I go to scout meets, I’m happy now to have coaches come up and tell me they think they have an athlete that would be a good fit for Marshall,” Tramel said. “It’s not so much me chasing them all, it’s more they’re starting to come up to me.
“I get e-mails from athletes who could come in today who have times in high school that could score in our conference meet. And that’s all encouraging. Now, we’ve still got to sign them. Just because they’re looking at us doesn’t mean they’re going to sign here, but when you have coaches endorsing your program, that’s a big, big step.
“When a young person is deciding where they’re going to further his or her athletic career and education, there are two sets of people who are going to carry weight in that decision. It’s the mom and dad, and the coach. And most of the time the coach is more in touch with how good certain programs are or how good certain collegiate coaches are. And they’re going to be able to say, ‘Go to Marshall because you’ll get faster, you’ll improve there. Or, don’t go to XYZ State because you will not improve there, or will not have as successful a career,’ in said coach’s opinion.
“I really believe I’ve got a lot of friends out there who are endorsing Marshall. And when I start to tell them everything we have to offer here, the caliber of education, the cost of the university, it makes a difference.”
Tramel said he isn’t interested in just treading water with the program.
“When I was talking to one coach recently, it was, ‘Hey, this is what it would cost, we offer academic scholarships if you get this kind of test scores, we’re a fully funded program, a 4-hour drive from you.’
“And he was, ‘Wow, we need to get you on our list.’ And I assume that list was the list of colleges that his club endorses. It’s one of the major clubs on the East Coast, and that’s certainly encouraging that we have the opportunity to get into that club.
“Swimming is a small community, and once you get one kid the chances of getting another kid and another kid from that program … it’s like a pipeline. And that’s something we’re focusing on, recruiting caliber athletes from well-established and well-respected clubs in the country.
“I believe if we can recruit that type of athlete who understands it’s summertime, time to train, or ‘Hey, it’s the holidays and it’s time to train,’ that’s going to get us to where we need to be.”
Tramel isn’t all wet. He knows Marshall Swimming/Diving has to change with the times to change those times.