Coaches Corner: “The Set” That Created An NCAA Champion

Courtesy of RITTER Sports Performance, a SwimSwam partner

Any good coach or swimmer knows it’s not just “one set” that will automatically get you the results you want. But there are a few “watermark” sets, if you will, that can have a much bigger impact than whatever energy system they’re working.

“We had a former coach on our staff that had told some other coaches that we had some endurance guys doing 3×[email protected]:30.” Gary Taylor of NC State explained to Chris Ritter in the Coaches Corner.

“We had never done that set, even though I had all these coaches asking me about it. ‘The set’ actually became a little bit of a joke among our group. But about a year ago after this came up I wanted to create a set that would really test their mentality and threshold.” Gary went on to explain.

The eventual set came out nearly as simple:

[email protected]:30

[email protected]:30

[email protected]:30

Anton Ipsen, one of the endurance swimmers in Gary’s training group at NC State, ended up going 9:07, in a regular suit, from a push, for the last swim.

“In case everyone out there needs some comparison, there aren’t many college guys that can break 9:00 in the 1000 from a DIVE.”

Anton, in particular, had solid performances at the ACC meet this year but after a week back in training he still wasn’t hitting all the paces you’d expect.

“I knew he was tired and wasn’t training well for a few days. He thought he didn’t have the training for the mile because he was missing a little bit on his paces that first week back. Then out of the blue Anton asked to do “the set” again but with a little bit of a change.”

Anton wanted the interval faster but be able to wear a jammer. So now the set would go:

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

“After we had talked through the changes to the set I remember him asking me, ‘Do you think I can do it?’ And I said absolutely. If you think you can do it I know you can.”

The stage was set. Less than two weeks out from Anton’s first swim at NCAA’s he’d be attempting the most difficult set of the year.

“Everyone was done by the time Anton’s on the 1000 and so they’re all watching and I’m thinking around the 200 it’s gonna be really close. It might be a 9:01 or 9:02.”

But something happened in that last 200. Whether it was in Anton’s muscles, heart or maybe even his mind and he closed to come in under 9:00.

Here’s what his splits (total times in bold) ended up being on “the set.”

4:41.1/9:21.2 (4:40.0)/13:59.5 (4:38.2)/18:36.8 (4:37.3)

4:31.8/9:06.2 (4:34.4)/13:40.5 (4:34.3)

4:30.1/8:59.4 (4:29.3)

Reflecting back on it Gary was a bit at a loss for words.

“That was one of the more…… I hope I get to watch something like that again. It was insanely impressive. To watch someone do something like that and he asked to do that…..”

To put “the set” in another perspective Anton did 4500yds in 42minutes.

Just a few weeks later Anton went on to crush his personal best in the mile and became NCAA Champion. It can be debated how much impact “the set” had on Anton’s performance by that time in the season. How much was physical? How much was mental? However, there is no doubt about the results.

“Some might say that’s a really boring set to swim but I really appreciate watching something like that and see a performance like Anton did. It’s not about the energy systems and that stuff. You’re just trying to put really hard things in front of them and allow them to see they are capable of things greater than they thought they could achieve.”

Gary closes out the conversation on the Coaches Corner with what’s at the core of his coaches and creating such challenging sets. “It’s our responsibility as coaches to teach our athletes that the impossible is possible. Giving them a set like that where their eyes may pop out looking at it but in which they then are successful at it can take them to another level of performance. I want them to have confidence in the work they’ve done when they step up behind the blocks.”

You can get full access to the training discussions with Gary throughout one of the more stressful times of the year – conference meet to NCAAs, during which Gary was sometimes writing 30 different workouts a week for his group and different tracks and needs of the swimmers. See how he managed to juggle it all! You’ll also get access to all the past featured coaches of the Coaches Corner, including: Dave Salo, Gregg Parini, Todd DeSorbo and many, many more.

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In This Story


  1. JP input is too short says:

    It isn’t the difference between a dive and push start in the 1000 that is the most impressive part – it’s doing those 1000s after a 2000 and a 1500 that aren’t exactly easy pace.

    • SwimGeek says:

      Yes. This. The “from a dive” comment was kind of silly. It’s going that fast after 3,500 very fast yards.

      • SwimSwamSwum says:

        The from-a-dive part was meant to express how most people can’t do this in a normal meet, which would have the swimmers start “from a dive”. Also take into account no competition to make him go faster, just pure motivation and grit.

  2. swimswammy says:


  3. Bon Jovi says:


  4. Sam Kendricks says:

    Wow! I wish I had known the before watching and calling that race. That deserves an ultra-rare… after the fact “Boomshakalaka” for a set two weeks out from NCAA’s. Does someone from NC State have a bit of video on that set they can share?

  5. Dan says:

    Dean Farriss & Joesph Schooling did this set in the cool down pool during NCAAs; heard their coaches were using the new stopwatches made by Daktronic.

  6. Person says:

    This terrifies me because my coach has had a habit of taking sets from swimswam and making us do them.

  7. DLSwim says:

    These sets are always tricky. If the swimmer fails, it can be a huge blow to his/her psyche. Fortunately, in this case it worked out; an amazing achievement.

  8. #STATEment says:

    Wow what an true athlete. With this coaching staff, NC State is going to be a hot spot for distance swimmers. and sprinters, and butterflyers, and breastrokers, and everything.

    NC State really do know how to churn out national champions


  9. coachcubs says:

    Thats a mental monster with elite physical gifts as well right there. There is a great set that Jeff Kostoff did back in the day that blew my mind when I was in college in the 90’s but this kills that set. I think it was 5×1000 on 10? Was around 9:15 on the last one I think. Does anyone have the stats from that set?

  10. coachcubs says:

    Found the set but not the stats……Jeff did 4×5000 on 50 mins. gross.

  11. John Luttrell says:

    What do your sprinters do? I’d die if I had to do that in college, ironically in high school when in my day everyone would do the same sets. Which is how I hung with Fox, though he beat me by a 1/2 a second my freshman year (1992) to win our duel meet.

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