I enjoyed the opportunity to connect with the coaches of the top three teams from NCAAs last year for both the men and women. We spoke a bit about their interest in coaching Division III, their respective colleges, and then turned to discuss the upcoming season. Here’s what they had to say.
Jon Howell, Head Coach of the Eagles (2013 Women’s National Champions of Emory). Coach Howell enters his 16th season as the coach of the Eagles Men and Women. In his term as Head Coach, the Eagles have earned 29 top ten finishes at the DIII level. This past year the women secured their fourth consecutive National Championship, their sixth over the program’s history. Howell is a 1990 graduate of Kenyon College where he competed primarily as a sprint freestyler.
I like Division III because it’s pure. The swimmers are here because their motivation is a pure motivation. They want to see how far they can push the sport. No one here is swimming to hang on to scholarship money. Everyone on the team is equal. For me, I like that pure aspect. The other thing I love is true student-athletes. They are equally passionate about other aspects of life on campus – the big picture.
I love the fact that Emory is a smaller environment. There’s great access to faculty, wonderful mentors. This is a place rich with opportunities. It’s amazing to see what direction our kids can go during their four year experience here. I like the fact that I get motivated, talented students, but I think one of the things that works is that it’s not cutthroat and competitive. The healthy, collaborative learning environment supports what we do in the water.
What are you excited for this season?
It’s obviously early. I have a really great group again. One of the things that’s always been a real strength of ours is that retention is really high. We have twenty-four seniors. Their wonderful leadership has really helped develop the program. We want to see how far we can push this swimming and academic balance. What’s exciting is what’s ahead of us both in the pool and in the classroom. There’s isn’t just one thing I’m excited about. I love this process. Every year is a little different.
How are the freshmen?
It’s hard for me to know just yet because I haven’t had a great opportunity to work with and see them in action. The hope is that we have people who can make an impact at a national level. I’ve learned not to be overly excited about one or another. Sometimes it’s the ones who hadn’t been thought of as national swimmers coming in. We have strength and leadership from the upperclassmen; freshmen step in to make a difference. The hope is to have at least a couple who leave their mark on the meet.
What’s changing this year?
I do different things every year. I like variety, I like mixing it up. There’s obviously principals that I believe work, and work well, but I’m always trying to push things in different directions. We’ve already started things a little differently for us and we’ll continue that. I don’t like being bored, and I figure if I’m bored my swimmers are. I’ve been doing this long enough that I don’t want to be bored. I think it benefits everyone.
I’ve been around long enough that a lot of people know me. We are a very unique set, I think as a university and a swimming program. The goal is to find kids who are going to thrive here – who see the value in what we do and why we do it. A lot of things contribute to our success. The people and place are a big part of that. I think we’re pretty transparent. We try to be consistent with our values, and it has seen us a long way.