21.1 Free Relay Leg Anna-Julia Kutsch Quits Auburn Swim & Dive Program

Mid-way through her sophomore year at Auburn University, star sprinter and Alabama native Anna-Julia Kutsch has quit the team. Kutsch told SwimSwam that she quit due to undisclosed health reasons and a fraught relationship with the coaching staff.

Kutsch joined the Auburn program in fall 2019 as a freshman, toting lifetime bests of 22.80 in the 50 free and 50.08 in the 100 free. She was also an Olympic Trials qualifier in the 50-meter free (25.94) prior to starting at Auburn.

As a freshman, Kutsch quickly developed into one of the program’s top sprinters, dropping down to 22.09 in the 50 and 49.30 in the 100. She finished seventh in the 50 free at the 2020 SEC Championships, her 22.09 from prelims qualifying her for the 2020 NCAA Championships in the top 30 nationally. She was also a C-finalist at SECs in the 100 free, and a key relay leg for the Tigers; she delivered a major 21.15 split on their SEC title-winning 200 free relay and anchored their 200 medley relay to a seventh-place finish.

“I had to quit practicing with the team December 8th for health-related reasons,” said Kutsch in an email to SwimSwam. “I handed in my letter of resignation on January 8th, following notice from the school that my stipend was being discontinued.”

Kutsch did not disclose specifics on the ‘health-related reasons’ for quitting practice in December. She raced in two meets this fall, a dual against Georgia where she won the 50 free (22.80) and a mid-season invite against Florida, where she placed third in the 50 free (22.43) and third in the 100 free (49.53). She also clocked a lifetime best of 54.89 in the 100 fly.

Kutsch said she was initially drawn to the Auburn program because of the competency that head coach Gary Taylor and assistant coach Duncan Sherrard had shown in their previous roles. Taylor was an associate head coach at NC State and Sherrard an assistant at UNC. Taylor and Sherrard both joined Auburn’s coaching staff, with Taylor as head coach, in late spring of 2018.

She tells SwimSwam, however, that the coaching and training environment did not meet her expectations.

“The existing culture of the Auburn swim program–in terms of both the athletic and psychological climate– was not allowing me to maximize my potential as an athlete and person,” said Kutsch. “The [coaches] lack fundamental traits which prevent them from connecting with their athletes, having positive communication and creating an environment of trust and understanding,” explained Kutsch. “This made it increasingly difficult to grow as a person and athlete.”

“As important as swimming has been for me, I came to a point where I had to prioritize my mental health and well-being over continuing to swim for Coach Gary Taylor and his staff. As I move forward, I hope to find a program that actually offers all that the Auburn coaches had promised.”

Auburn’s coaching staff declined to comment on this story.

In her writing to SwimSwam, Kutsch said that she did not want to speak on behalf of her former teammates, emphasizing that she was only speaking for herself. She also had positive things to say about her teammates.

“My teammates at Auburn and my relationships with them mean the world to me,” she said. “They truly embody what it means to be Auburn men and women. They make me proud to have been part of the program, and my relationships with teammates are the most positive results from my time with Auburn.”

While finished with the Auburn swimming & diving program, Kutsch is still enrolled with the school and plans to finish the spring semester at Auburn, stating that she still enjoys her academic opportunities and social life there. Of course, with her sprint capabilities, Kutsch would be a huge snag for any NCAA program if she does wind up continuing the sport and transferring.

“I have not yet made a decision regarding my future as an NCAA athlete,” said Kutsch. “Obviously, I am passionate about swimming, but right now I need to focus on my health. I am hopeful for a return to the pool, but if I am able to return to swimming, the time of my return would depend on the state of my mental health and what opportunities may present themselves.”

Kutsch said that she’s focusing on school and will workout outside of the pool for now.

“If there is a next school,” said Kutsch, “I hope that I am able to find what I expected to find at Auburn: a nationally ranked swimming program with a competitive but collegial culture, and coaches who desire to see their athletes grow and succeed not just in the pool but also in their everyday lives. I am confident a level of excellence can be achieved both athletically and personally, and that one is not exclusive of the other. ”

For the time being, though, Kutsch is not making any big calls.

“I think it’s best for me to distance myself from my current situation to allow me to make a rational and well-founded decision.”

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1 year ago

The Stipend (cost of attendance) at Auburn is $5600, or $2800/semester. The article says she quit after the stipend was taken away. Why did Auburn take that away? Strange a Power 5 University would get such a black eye over $2800. Seems punitive, or they wanted her to quit.

Reply to  Falcon
1 year ago

she had her stipend/”per diem” taken away because she CHOSE not to attend Auburn’s winter training camp. That money is given for athletes to get food and sustain themselves just like any meet or travel trip. It would be illegal for the school to give her money if she wasn’t going to attend this, so they LEGALLY had to ask for it back. As for scholarship, that would obviously be taken away as she voluntarily quit the program, which means she quit the opportunities and financial support that comes with being on the team.

Reply to  AuburnWDE
1 year ago

She stated that she didn’t quit until after it was taken away. The problem is that programs don’t support their athletes over mental health hurdles like they do with physical injuries.

Reply to  Jessica
1 year ago

I would agree with this, and as an athlete I do feel this is something this sport needs to improve on as a whole. But from an insider on the program, AJ quit BEFORE they took away her per diem… Since it was a legal process, and had to be cleared through administration it literally couldn’t legally be done until after her “resignation” was stated. Teams throughout the NCAA can not take away scholarship unless major violations or rules are broken or athletes quit. You can even swim slow every year and your NLI will protect you from having money taken away.

With the mental health statement and Auburn, it seems that the staff allowed her to go home… Read more »

Auburn Swim Parent
Reply to  AuburnWDE
1 year ago

My son is a current Freshman at Auburn University and is an athlete on the swim team. Our family decided on Auburn, even though it is out of state, because of the coaching staff. He had great expectations of the coaching staff and he has definitely not been disappointed. Both Coach Taylor and Coach Sherrard were very kind to my son for the 2 years leading up to his recruitment. Even though his times were not good enough for D1 recruitment as a Junior in high school, both coaches were more than gracious in continuing communication with my son, and they have continued to be supportive. He is having a great experience with college swimming – it is everything he… Read more »

Don’t be a troll
1 year ago

We should give both the athlete and the staff the benefit of the doubt and show both of them grace. Auburn has nothing to gain by engaging in this forum or by trying to justify their point-of-view publicly. The presentation of this incident in this way is reckless and inflammatory because it is only partial information. Without citing specifics and getting all the information from everyone involved, you don’t know the whole story and that isn’t going to happen. I imagine there are people on the team that don’t have all the information. The character assassination in the comments is inappropriate and wrong.

We don’t have to agree, but we should be civil to each other. Very few people are… Read more »

1 year ago

It was incredibly brave of this young woman to come forward and of swimswam to post her story. Mental health issues as a whole are overlooked and not managed well by coaches. During all the changes and stresses of the pandemic and how it has affected not only training, but academics, the only thing that is surprising is the lack of empathy and understanding. She is a whole person and her health is something she and her coaches should be looking after. I would much rather see her standing up for herself and other athletes in the process than read about another suicide.

What about the other girl
1 year ago

I feel sorry for the girl who was not selected to be on the AU Swimming and Diving team because this girl was. I’ll bet she would have been much more appreciative of this opportunity only given to a small percentage of young men and women who work hard every day to get a chance like this. In life, sometimes things don’t work out. Blaming others, hurting the team, and bashing the individuals that gave you this tremendous opportunity is both selfish and immature.  

Reply to  What about the other girl
1 year ago

putting your mental health first is never selfish! Speaking up about what happened to her and what led her to the point of having to quit the team in order to be happy again is not immature. She is sharing her story and is being vocal about something that many other athletes may not have the courage to speak up about. Anna-Julia is a strong woman and an amazing athlete. Every college team would be lucky to have her. I wish her nothing but the best.

What about the other girl
Reply to  watcher
1 year ago

Putting yourself first is the definition of selfish. And not every college team would be lucky to have her.

1 year ago

So I have re-read this article and I am heartbroken for this poor girl. It is obvious that she is having some health issues. After rethinking this I believe Swimswam should re-think how they handle these situations.

The headline 21.1 relay swimmer? What if she was a 24.1 does that count?

It was insinuated that SwimSwam reached out to her, if so, do you not feel a responsibility to let her heal or are headlines like 21.1 more important?

I read you reached out the University who obviously couldn’t comment. Did you reach out to any of the active swimmers?

This seems to me like a troubled girl got exploited especially since the entire story can’t be… Read more »

1 year ago

It’s been a long time since Auburn swimming was relevant at the national level. It seems this coaching staff needs a different approach for bring them back. Not gonna get a lot of top-tier recruits with stories like this. As an earlier poster wrote, when’s the last time you read something like this about Durden, Meehan, Eddie?

Last edited 1 year ago by Stewie
1 year ago

Very brave of her to speak so openly about how she feels about the coaches. I won’t make speculations about an overall toxic environment because she says she’s only speaking for herself, and it’s possible that the coaches aren’t the best fit for Kutsch herself. But, whatever it means, it seems problematic.
Wish she finds what she ultimately needs, even if it takes a lot of time, and her health issues eventually get better if possible.

Reply to  swimfan210_
1 year ago

Brave – and perhaps incautious. Beyond the world of swimming, and guessing that she’s not gonna turn into Ledecky , she’s going to likely have a first job.

Complaining about your former employer is typically a yellow flag in the interview process.

Good for her making a stand if indeed the Auburn coach is a complete jerk.

If it’s just her, and there’s some evidence in this thread that this isn’t ‘all swimmers,’ then she’s indeed brave for her public exit, and what that foretells for her swimming and post-swimming career.

I interview lots of folks, regularly. If this public exit was brought to my attention, I’d definitely ask her, and find someone willing to talk about her… Read more »

Jamie P Lee
1 year ago

As a parent of a young lady swimming for Auburn and Coach Gary Taylor, I can tell you that her experience has been incredibly positive. If you are a recruit considering Auburn, I suggest you reach out to someone who did not quit the team and is still enjoying an truly amazing school, great coaches, and supportive environment.

Forks Down
Reply to  Jamie P Lee
1 year ago

Just bc one (or multiple) people have had positive experiences, that doesn’t mean it’s the same for every kid or invalidates what this girl went through and feels

Coach Tom
Reply to  Forks Down
1 year ago

While I would certainly not try to invalidate her feelings, she made many comments that go beyond her personal feelings. She said the coaches lack fundamental skills that prevent them from communicating with athletes. That’s not saying, “I didn’t get along with them.” it’s pretty much saying “They’re incapable of getting along with anyone.”.

If she had simply stuck to statements discussing her own personal feelings, then no one has the right to invalidate her. If she is going to claim that the coaches lack fundamental communication skills altogether, then people who feel as though they have good communication with the staff are more than entitled to disagree with her statement.

Reply to  Forks Down
1 year ago

Both you, Forks Down, and Jamie P Lee can both have valid arguments. Doesn’t make one of you ‘wrong.’

As a parent of a going to be entering college age’d kid, I’m interested in hearing all sides of this and other swimmer-said / coach-said divorces.

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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