Press Release courtesy of Boston College Athletics
For a first-year head coach, there’s always learning curves as athletes adjust to new methodologies and a new culture’s foundation. There’s a natural excitement with a fresh start, but there’s also an unknown as training, practice, recovery and instruction all are ingrained for the very first time.
But the coaches often experience a reverse of that same learning curve. They often have to adjust their methods to the brand of athlete they’ve chosen to lead. It creates a unique challenge, one that can lead to incredible satisfaction when achieving the first stages of success.
It’s something that became a central point for Boston College swimming head coach Mike Stephens.
“Seeing the progression of the team this year was special,” he said of the 2017-2018 season for both the men’s and women’s programs. “We talked about wanting to get better each and every day all season long, and we hoped that the end of the year, at the ACC meet, would be what we could’ve hoped for. I was really proud of the group with what we did.”
Stephens wasn’t exactly a stranger to the Eagle swimming and diving program, having served as assistant coach for the past four years. But it didn’t stop him from implementing a new style upon accepting the head coaching position. It’s something the student-athletes immediately accepted, and it produced those immediate results.
“We changed a lot and adjusted a lot with our training techniques and requirements in what we were doing,” he said. “At first it was very challenging to have that transition, but we got better in practice and with our work ethic. We started performing better, and we had 17 school records at the end of the year. On top of that, we had close to 200 career-best performances on the year and 94 performances that earned a new spot on the Top Ten lists, which is a very, very good sign (for the teams).
“We’re by no means perfect,” he said. “But we’re headed in the right direction and we can improve upon it moving forward.”
A season that began with losses in dual meet competition ended with shattered records in the ACC Championship meet. The women’s 800-yard freestyle relay of Erika Freeman, Dominique Gray, Ali Kea and Kristina Fecarotta broke the school record by a full five seconds, and the medley relay team of Maura Grimes, Taylor Covington, Victoria Lin and Kea broke both the 200-yard and 400-yard records. Grims and Kea would later break program records in individual events as well.
The men’s side shaved seconds off records in relays as well, breaking the 400-yard medley by a full two ticks. Individually, Colin O’Leary cut 2.61 seconds off the 200-yard butterfly record, then broke the 100-yard record by almost a full half-second.
It’s a success built on the foundation of the team. Broken records and personal best times reflect the accomplishment of the individual, but the sheer volume is the result of the team atmosphere fostered in training groups built by the coaching staff with the student-athletes.
“We put a huge emphasis on the team all throughout the program,” Stephens said. “We did a good job, even before I took over, of creating a positive competitive atmosphere where kids from different training groups worked together and pushed each other. Then they’re happy for each other on the pool deck when their training partner does well because they feel partially responsible for getting someone to that level. It creates a power among the kids to get their swimming to a higher level. That’s something we’re really proud and really focused on (this year).”
The success of the 2017-2018 year is only the first building block, however, for a long process to bridge Boston College into the rest of its competition. Individual and team success stemmed from a cultural investment by everyone. It was as much about the team working with the coaches as it was the coaches’ implementation methods.
“We don’t want people too concerned with individual times,” Stephens said. “Instead, we want people who focus on how that individual time builds the greater team. From the very beginning, even back to last spring, we wanted this Boston College team to train that way, and (the athletes) took a lot of pride in building that culture. That became built into our identity as everyone got behind building something bigger than themselves.”
It created a process where of mutually beneficial education. Stephens’ adjustment to the head coaching position came with its own self-assessed lessons. The season’s conclusion allows him to reassess what he’s already learned and use his first full offseason to power forward with the roster looking to assist in Boston College’s collective success.
“One of the things that I’m constantly trying to do is get better on my own,” he said. “We did so much well this year, but there is so much that we can improve upon. It’s such a long season that spans two semesters, so having this full offseason will allow us to do different things to impact next season. It’s not just the work you do leading up to a big meet; it’s what you’ve done for the year or two years prior to that. Now that we have one year under our belt, that’s starting to become the expectation for training and competing. So we hope that will pick up more and more momentum as we progress forward.”