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MCGILL: @HerdSwimDive Builds Momentum, Sets Big Goals

The Marshall University swimming and diving team celebrates.
Nov. 16, 2016

By Chuck McGill

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – In Chloe Parsemain’s four years with the Marshall University swimming and diving team, she has witnessed a complete shift in mentality. A testament to the culture overhaul can be seen when Parsemain’s shows up for practice and sees a crowded pool.

“I’m not saying the water is warmer now, but …” said Parsemain, a 5-foot-2 senior from France. “Freshman year it was hard to get everyone in the pool. People are ready to work. People are focused on swimming. People want to do good.”

It shows. Marshall, which next competes at the three-day North Carolina State GAC Invitational starting Thursday in Greensboro, North Carolina, is off to a strong start to the 2016-17 season. This campaign started with the MU-hosted West Virginia State Games, and the Thundering Herd defeated West Virginia University and other Mountain State college programs for a first place finish. Marshall set school records for points in a meet and most points in the West Virginia State Games in the two-day event.

The program has come a long way in coach Bill Tramel’s four seasons. He has overhauled the roster and eradicated a culture that didn’t have the program positioned for Conference USA championships.

“We targeted established club programs and high school programs that traditionally churned out Division I student-athletes,” Tramel said. “When the swimmers came here they were met with an old culture that was trying to maintain culture. That’s why it’s so difficult to change culture because you’ve got the old culture entrenched.

“Even when you’ve got your own teams four years into it there still might be some of that old culture in there because the juniors and seniors might have been influenced by that.”

Kacey Preun, a volunteer assistant who used to swim for Marshall, has witnessed the evolution of the program up close.

“What we have now compared to what we did have is vastly different,” Preun said. “It’s getting the right girls on the team, getting the right girls who have the same goal. They have that drive to win conference. They have goal to get better and they want faster times.

“They have goals, they have them set and they know what they want to do and they follow through.”

Tramel sees the changes at the pool. He doesn’t deem it necessary to micromanage student-athletes if he recruits the right kind of swimmers and divers.

“Everything is starting to come together now,” he said. “They are starting to do things on their own that they’re supposed to do, little things like lining up for the national anthem, doing their warm down on their own, doing their warm up on their own, doing stretching on their own.

“They are starting to do the things that champions do. They are doing things elite-level athletes do.”

The performance supports Tramel’s words. Marshall struggled for years in Conference USA, finishing in the bottom three of the league championships in nine consecutive years, from 2006 through 2014. At six of those championships, the Herd finished in last place, including ninth out of nine teams in 2014.

“Once you get it where you want it you don’t manage the people, you manage the system,” Tramel said. “You don’t have to tell the athletes what to do because they know that’s what they have to do. You come in and you work hard every day. You do the right thing. You go to class. It’s like you’re hard-wired like that already.

“You don’t have to be molded because that’s just the type of person you are. You’re a self-starter. You’re motivated internally.”

Parsemain believes winning has infected the team now. It has the team in the pool trying to build, rather than maintain.

“Why? Probably because we are getting better,” Parsemain said. “Probably because we are having more fun. We’re getting better and we’ve got great coaches. It’s really put us in the right mindset to work hard. If you make something good happen a lot of other good things are going to happen. It’s a great dynamic.”

Marshall made strides at the C-USA championships the last two seasons, finishing fourth in 2015 and third this past spring. This year’s championships will be held Feb. 22-25, 2017, in Atlanta. Gone are the days of last-place finishes. Marshall has its sights set on much, much more.

“You can grab any of my teammates right now and ask them what their goal is as a team and they would say, ‘Winning conference,’” Parsemain said. “Three years ago? They would laugh at your face. They would laugh at you.”