2021 Swammy Awards: US Club Coach of the Year – Ron Aitken

2021 U.S. Club Coach of the Year – Ron Aitken

This award specifically recognizes accomplishments with junior U.S.-based athletes, and puts a bigger focus on depth and success from a large number of swimmers. Coaches can theoretically win both awards.

Ron Aitken has been named the recipient of the Swammy Award for US Club Coach of the Year following a dominant year by his Sandpipers of Nevada at both the national and international levels. 

In 2021, Aitken coached three swimmers onto the 2021 US Olympic Team: Erica Sullivan, Bella Sims, and Katie Grimes, the two latter of whom were the two youngest swimmers on the entire Olympic Team. Such a performance netted a spot on deck in Tokyo, though he wasn’t named to the official USA Coaching Staff. In Tokyo, Aitken’s swimmers exceeded expectations, with both Sims and Sullivan walking away from the meet with silver medals, and Grimes finishing 4th individually in the 800 freestyle. 

Following the Sandpiper’s performance in Tokyo, the team continued to dominate on the national stage at the USA Swimming Winter Junior National Championships, taking first place overall. At the meet, several Sandpipers swimmers posted some of the top times in age group history. The aforementioned Sims won the 200 butterfly in a time of 1:53.91, good for #8 all-time among 15-16 girls and she later swam a 9:31 in the 1000 free, also good for #8 all-time in that age group. Grimes, meanwhile, posted a time of 15:34.74 in the 1650 freestyle to cut almost 7 seconds off of the meet record in the event, moving up to #2 all time amongst 15-16 girls, only behind Katie Ledecky. 

To cap off a record-breaking year, the Sandpipers women’s 800 freestyle relay of Grimes, Sims, Claire Weinstein, and Paige Kuwata dropped a time of 7:02.90, the fastest relay ever swum by a junior team, shattering the Juniors meet record by 3 seconds. However, the time will not stand as a NAG because Weinstein is still only 14-years-old. 

Currently, Aitkin has 6 athletes on the US National Team, including Sims, Grimes, Sullivan, Bowe Becker, Blake Pieroni, and Dylan Gravley. He also has 3 athletes currently on the US National Junior Team: Kuwata, Nick Simons, and Brice Barrieault. He also is the coach of breakout swimmer Ilya Kharun, who entered the scene in 2021 after being unheard of, breaking the NAG record in the 15-16 100 butterfly. In less than a year, Kharin has gone from an un-ranked swimmer to being one of the top recruits in SwimSwam’s class of 2023, committing to Arizona State

Honorable Mentions: 

  • Brent Arckey – The head coach of the Sarasota Sharks, Arkey coached Emma Weyant on to the US Olympic Team. Weyant, who had already won a US National Championship in the 400 IM in 2019, dropped a best time of 4:33.81 to stun the field and qualify for her first Olympic Team. She later won a silver medal in the event in Tokyo. Arkey also had success coaching Gracie Weyant on to USA Swimming’s Junior International Team in 2021. The younger of the two Weyant sisters, Gracie represented the US at the FINA World Cup and won the 200 breaststroke at Wave I of the US Olympic Trials meet. Arkey is also the primary coach for Liam Custer, who is ranked 3rd  in SwamSwam’s Rankings of the Class of 2022. 
  • Chris PlumbChris Plumb’s Carmel Swim Club had a standout performance at the Winter Junior’s meet, winning the girl’s title at the Greensboro meet by more than 200 points. At the meet, the Carmel women’s 400 medley relay of Berit Berglund, Devon Kitchel, Alex Shackell, and Gretchen Lueking combined for a 3:33.88, breaking the 15-18 NAG record in the event and winning the race by more than 6 seconds. In additon, several of his swimmers claimed individual victories, including Alex Shackell, Berit Berglund and Devon Kitchel. Plumb currently has 2 athletes on USA Swimming’s National Junior Team roster: Berglund and Madelyn Christman. 
  • Bruce Marchionda – The 2020 recipient of this award, Marchionda’s TAC Titans had another banner year that included an Olympic berth from Claire Curzan. In Tokyo, Curzan finished 10th in the 100 butterfly and picked up a silver medal as a prelims member of the 4×100 medley relay. More recently, Curzan and teammate Charlotte Hook both competed at the SC World Championships meet. During the competition, Curzan picked up a total of 6 medals, including golds as a member of the women’s 4×50 and 4×100 freestyle relays and individual bronze medals in the 50 and 100 butterfly, setting World Junior Records in both events. Hook also took home a silver medal in the 200 butterfly with a time of 2:04.35. On top of Hook and Curzan, Marchionda also coached standouts Caroline Pennington, Michael Cotter, Lance Norris, and Jacob Pishko on to the 2021 USA Swimming National Junior Team. 


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1 year ago

Can we talk about how 2 of 3 honorable mentions all subscribe to the GAIN Dryland program? I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Thoughts?

Reply to  Joy
1 year ago

Oooh, a negative thought, downvote, but no commentary.

Are you one of those “dryland doesn’t matter” kinda folks? Or, just a “have the kids do a lap around the park” coach? Maybe you go the route of printing out a list of exercises and handing it to the kids at the beginning of the season?

I’m not implying that dryland is the secret to success for these teams. I’m saying that as an additive to excellent swim coaching, they’ve cracked a nut that most programs/coaches only dream of achieving.

Last edited 1 year ago by Joy
turk men I stan
Reply to  Joy
1 year ago

I’m not implying that dryland is the secret to success for these teams.”

Sure you are. You clearly came here to ad-spam for your dryland program. That’s why people are downvoting you.

Reply to  Joy
1 year ago

The Sandpipers are a GAIN team as well

Old Bruin
1 year ago

Congrats to Ron, all the kids who train so hard in his system, and to Coach Michael Kinross who has a hand in this success as well!

(Also of note, It’s Ilya Kharun and Nick Simons, as well as Brent Arckey, their names are all spelled wrong in the article.)

Last edited 1 year ago by Old Bruin
Old Bruin
Reply to  Old Bruin
1 year ago

Also, it’s Blake Pieroni not James Plage who represents the Sandpipers on the National Team….Plage is a Wolfpack Elite swimmer…

1 year ago

More than deserving, congrats Coach Ron Aitken!

However… Holy typos…

USA Swim Coach
Reply to  flyguy4910
1 year ago

Typos are fitting

NM Coach
1 year ago

VERY WELL DESERVED!!! Congratulations Ron!!!

1 year ago

This guy is the new Dick Shoulberg. He should be overall coach of the year, not just US club coach of the year. Keep in mind that as a club coach he draws from a limited geographical area, in contrast to college and national team coaches in other countries. Consider the following thought experiment: clone a great college coach 100x and send them to lead 100 other college swim program in the country. Undoubtedly, performance in the US would improve, but the impact might be limited due to finite talent available in the feeder networks. Now consider instead cloning this guy to 100 other comparable metropolitan areas in the US. The increase in talent feeding into all college programs would… Read more »

1 year ago

It’s Also notable for plumb that Jake Mitchell left Michigan right after NCAAS and trained with him. Probably a big reason he went from having an okay college season to making the Olympics

Mark Rauterkus
1 year ago

Wow. Just wow!

1 year ago

I love how much he shares. Gives to the USA Swimming community — this is a no-brainer (lots of great coaches but still)

About Nicole Miller

Nicole Miller

Nicole has been with SwimSwam since April 2020, as both a reporter and social media contributor. Prior to joining the SwimSwam platform, Nicole also managed a successful Instagram platform, amassing over 20,000 followers. Currently, Nicole is pursuing her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After competing for the swim …

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