Sep 9, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – So, Marshall is approaching Year 2 of coach Bill Tramel’s up-from-the-deep effort in its swimming and diving program.
“I think I’m really looking at this year as Year 1,” said Tramel, who came to Marshall nearly 16 months ago. “Last year we had a lot of obstacles and a lot of challenges, a lot of things that got in the way of our success last year. So, I’m calling this Year 1. Last year was Year 0.”
OK, he’s the boss. Tramel has coached at Missouri, South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and, for the last eight seasons prior to becoming a head coach here, at Minnesota.
He’s coached men and women. He’s coached 54 All-America selections.
What he wants for his Herd is a team that’s swimming in the same direction … always.
“This year we’re certainly continuing to focus on a team,” Tramel said. “The other day I told the women that last year everyone was new, every single person was new. I was new to them as a coach; they were all new to me as athletes.
“This year we have seven new freshmen and obviously they are new to this training system and they’re new to our coaching staff as well.
“However, because the returnees have experience in the direction of our program, they understand what the coaches are looking for, what things are all about, understand practice design and coaches’ expectations.
“Hopefully, they will be able to share and guide and teach the freshmen about what the expectations are, what we’re looking for, etc., whereas last year, that was an impossibility because nobody understood.”
The Herd – it opens the season in mid-October with the West Virginia State Games in Morgantown – has 13 returning swimmers from 2012-13 and one diver back. The freshman arrivals include five swimmers and two divers.
This season will still be only a start of the foundation Tramel is trying to build.
“One of the things we preach on a daily basis is accountability and the concept I’m trying to teach right now is, if your teammate does not succeed, you will not succeed,” the Herd coach said. “Everyone has to help everyone.
“If you see a teammate that is giving less than 100 percent effort in a practice, you need to encourage that teammate to do a better job. If you see your teammate making a poor decision outside the pool, you need to help that teammate make a better decision. If you see a teammate neglecting her academics, you need to help that teammate get back on track.
“Everyone’s success is dependent on everyone else’s success. You can’t win unless your teammate wins – those are some of the concepts the best teams have. It shouldn’t be the coaches encouraging the athletes to do the right thing; it should be the athletes telling the athletes to do the right thing.”
Tramel is going to take a move by Herd football coach Doc Holliday one step farther. Holliday is naming weekly game captains. Tramel?
“One of the things we’re going to do this year, we’re not going to have team captains,” Tramel said. “We want everyone to lead, and certainly that’s going to be a more difficult role for the freshmen, but everyone is an equal and everyone should have the confidence and respect from their other teammates to be able to speak up and help one another.”
Tramel’s 2013-14 team has five seniors and a fourth-year junior. He is counting on finding points much deeper in his lineup.
“To be successful, everyone needs to be successful. We can’t just have one or two people carrying the team, and can’t have one or two we rely on all the time. Everyone has to contribute all of the time. And we can’t just have one or two people perform well in a meet, and then two or three people do well in another meet. We have to have everyone performing all of the time.”
Asked about this season’s “expectations,” Tramel referenced his past (1995-2004) as head assistant coach at North Carolina, using the UNC men’s basketball history as a point of reference.
“We need to expect to succeed here,” Tramel said. “There will be challenges along the way and we will not always succeed in our goals but we need to expect to succeed. An extreme case … North Carolina basketball.
“Clemson is 0-56 in Chapel Hill in history, never ever, ever won. When that game comes up, Carolina expects to win and when they do, it’s not a big deal because it’s supposed to win. That’s the attitude I’m trying to bring to Marshall University, is we expect to succeed, expect to win. Obviously, the chance of winning every single time is very challenging.
“But we have to put ourselves in a mindset where we expect to win. Coach (Dean) Smith expected to win every game; that was the whole mindset of that program. And when they lost, it was a big deal. It wasn’t a big deal when you won; you were supposed to do that. When you approach athletics in that manner you put yourself into a position to be able to succeed.”
Tramel wants his athletes to visualize success, too.
“As swimmers, we talk about walking up to the starting block with a mindset of I am about ready to tear this race up, about ready to explode and have a phenomenal performance,” he said. “That’s as opposed to walking up with mindset of, I hope I do well, I hope I don’t get beat, I hope I don’t fade in the back half of this race, I hope I’ll be able to finish strong.
“We want to approach every performance that way. OK, we may be performing against an admirable opponent, but we’re going to win, we’re going to succeed. Clearly, we may not ever succeed, but we talk about putting ourselves in a position for success, and you have a better opportunity for success when you approach things with a positive mindset, with an expectation to succeed, rather than with a defeatist attitude.”
One of the concepts Tramel is coaxing into his Herd is his athletes need to make commitments to year-round workouts and competition – not just an on-campus experience in Fitch Natatorium and the weight room. He wants the commitment in pool time and success to approximate last season team grade point averages (3.44 fall semester; 3.38 spring).
“It has to be a year-round sport,” Tramel said. “It just has to be.
“Swimming can’t be the only thing in life. Certainly you have to have balance, but really, planning your life around the goals you have in swimming and diving as opposed to planning swimming and diving around your life and factoring it in whenever it might fit, is what you need to do to have success.”
He used two examples on his 2013-14 team as women who understand what it’s going to take for the Herd to have much greater success in the water.
“Vera Niemeyer, she redshirted last season and is back for a fifth year,” Tramel said. “This summer she went back home to Germany and just completely committed herself to swimming and had a shockingly successful summer.
“Vera came back in extraordinary shape, arrived a much better athlete than she was when she left after classes in May. She’s a backstroker and does IM, but she’s expanded that and she quite possibly now could be our fastest 100 freestyler this year.
“Then, there’s Alex Black, a sophomore breaststroker. She’s from Cocoa Beach (Fla.), but she went to south Florida for the summer, lived with her sister and went to train with a well-known coach, Sid Cassidy, at the St. Andrew’s program (in Boca Raton).
“Going back to our Conference USA Championships (last February), on the day of preparation, I went to the athletes and asked each of them to share their goals, share what they wanted to accomplish the next three days.
“And Alex said something like, ‘You know, I’ve really realized how bad I want to succeed in this sport, how badly I want to contribute to this team. She talked about her love for swimming, and you could almost hear in her voice the desperation of how badly she wanted that. This summer she made commitment to alter her life to get that. She improved herself considerably. She’s a much better athlete now than she was when she left in May.”
Tramel knows what he wants. He knows what the Herd needs. He’s been there, done that at other places, in much more successful programs … and he said success is not an impossible task at Marshall.
“The thing is that we’re moving in that direction. To really reach your full potential -- as with any athlete but in this sport, especially -- sacrifices are going to have to be made. It has to be a year-round commitment. We need that.”