Division 3 Conference ODAC Gains 8 New Swim Teams for 2017-2018

by Spencer Penland 1

November 08th, 2017 College, NCAA Division III, News

The Old Dominion Athletic Conference has gained 8 new programs for the 2017-2018 season, 3 women’s and 5 men’s. Randolph College, Roanoke College, and Virginia Wesleyan are debuting new men’s and women’s teams this year, while Bridgewater College and Emory and Henry College have introduced men’s teams in addition to their existing women’s teams. This brings the number of teams in ODAC to 12 for women and 10 for men.

These 8 new teams have already begun to make an impact on the conference, currently holding 29 ODAC top-10 individual event rankings between them. Those 29 top-10 ranks come in both men’s and women’s, and span across nearly every event offered by college swimming.

The addition of 8 new teams to a single conference all in the same year is great news for swimming fans, coaches, and athletes alike, as it shows the growing popularity of the sport which can be seen from age group swimming all the way up through collegiate competition.

Here is a short breakdown of each new program and a Q&A with each head coach:

Randolph College

Randolph College, located in Lynchburg, Virginia, has revived its women’s swimming program over 10 years after the sport was dropped, and has added a men’s team for the first time ever. As of now, there are 10 athletes on the women’s team and 9 on the men’s, who are coached by Taylor Steele (bio can be found here) and assistant coach Bethany Kennon.

Q&A with head coach Taylor Steele:

Q: What are your thoughts on being the head coach of a brand new college team?

A: I think it is a great opportunity, not only for myself and Randolph, but also for my student-athletes. I was the second class of a startup program when I was recruited to swim in college and it was one of the best experiences I have ever had. It is sometimes challenging because you are building everything from the ground up, from budgets, equipment, team dynamics and team traditions. We have a long road ahead, it is a bit of a roller coaster, but I couldn’t have asked for a more awesome experience.

Q: What are your thoughts on the team’s roster this year?

A: Currently, we are sporting 9 men and 10 women this season. I think it is a good size roster for our first season out and will hopefully double this next season, so we are a full roster next year. I know my assistant, Bethany Kennon and myself are working hard to accomplish this goal.

Because we do only have 19 athletes this season, yes, there are going to be a few holes in a meet line up. We are trying to address those in a few different ways. Of course, some of my more versatile athletes swim whatever events we need them to week to week. Others we are working on developing to do some longer events and stroke events, so we can fill out a meet line up.

Q: How do you feel about the team’s first few meets?

A: I am very proud of my team after their first few meets. My guys have definitely surpassed my expectations in the pool week to week. And keep breaking each other’s records, which is always a good time. The women, considering most are walk-ons, are showing great improvement and will be a totally different team come championships, compared to our first showing at the ODAC relay meet. I am definitely looking forward to an exciting rest of the season and a great championship.

Q: What’s your plan for the rest of the season?

A: We have a few more meets this season. I am going to put my team up against some good competition so we can continue to race. We will suit up for our invite in December to see what our progress is looking like, make adjustments as needed aim for a top notch conference finish.

Q: What’s your plan for building this program? Do you have a specific goals for the development of the program?

A: I am aiming big for this next class coming in. Looking to add some heavy hitters on both the men’s and women’s team, as well as gain some depth with this next class. I would like to have a full roster of 36 men and women next season, even though we have a few seniors graduating this year. I want to develop and recruit enough talent in the next 3 seasons so my first class of athletes have a chance to compete for a conference championship. Hopefully this season we will have a handful of athletes get NCAA cuts and over the next few years develop them to get to the NCAA championships.

Roanoke College

Roanoke College is located in Salem, Virginia and has added men’s and women’s swimming for the first time in school history. The Maroons are coached by Scott Thacker (bio can be found here) and the team consists of 11 men and 12 women. Roanoke has the largest rosters for women and men out of the 8 new teams.

Q&A with head coach Scott Thacker:

Q: What are your thoughts on coaching a brand new team?

A: It is an incredible privilege to be a part of the Roanoke College family and to be coaching our student athletes on this new journey.

Q: What are your thoughts on the roster this year? 

A: Our 17 freshmen provide a great starting place for us as we are building our program and looking ahead to our next few recruiting classes. Along with our handful of upperclassmen, they are laying a solid foundation and creating an exciting and dynamic environment.

Q: How do you feel about your first couple meets?

A: We are excited about our results so far this year. We had a great showing at the ODAC Relay meet where our men and women were 4th overall. As a staff we went into the meet thinking that if we were 5th on both sides, that would be a major win. Overall, we are really excited about the results we are having so far this season and the way our athletes are competing.

Q: What is your plan for building the program? Any specific goals for the foreseeable future?

A: Our number one priority right now is developing the right culture with the right people. Having a team that flies in a unified direction is the most important aspect of what we are doing.

Virginia Wesleyan

Virginia Wesleyan is located in Norfolk/Virginia Beach, Virginia. Mike Ginder is the head coach. Ginder brings a lot of college coaching experience to the program. He began his coaching career at Washington and Lee University, another ODAC school, where Ginder also competed as a student-athlete. Then Ginder took his coaching talents to Catholic University, Georgetown University, and Bucknell University, serving as an assistant coach for all 3. His full bio can be found here.

Q&A with head coach Mike Ginder:

Q: What are your thoughts on coaching a brand new team?

A: It’s incredibly exciting to be starting this team from scratch.  It’s pretty rare that you get a truly blank slate of a team as a coach and I am truly grateful for the opportunity.  It is awesome to be able to come in with these first men and women swimmers and begin to build this program the way we want to by doing the things we want.  We get to create everything including setting the culture, establishing the traditions, and even coming up with the team cheers.  And of course the record board is a clean slate but will see records set and broken almost every week!  Obviously with Virginia Wesleyan never having a swim team before, there was a bit of logistical work to get the pool ready for competition, including getting the scoreboard and timing system installed.

Q: What are your thoughts on the roster this year? 

A:  I am very optimistic about the group of men and women that are a part of this team.  They have a wide background when it comes to their swimming careers which brings a lot of different perspectives to the pool deck.  These first several meets are all about getting up to race and finding out everyone’s primary events.  If there are holes in the line-ups, we’ll just have to maximize our strengths in the other events to gain as many points as we can.

Q: How do you feel about your first couple meets?

Our season opener at W&L for the ODAC Relay meet, was a fun way to kick off the season.  It was a fast-paced and several swimmers had some tough back-to-back races based on the event ordered, but everyone stepped up and swam their hardest (probably because it was all relay events and everyone knows swimmers swim faster on relays than individually!).  Our home opener against Randolph College drew a large crowd which made for an exciting atmosphere throughout the meet.  I am extremely proud of the women for coming away with the win and the men for racing every race.

Q: What’s your plan for building this program? Do you have a specific goals for the development of the program?

A: Obviously, the first plan for the future of the program is to bring in a great class next fall.  While we will be able to accomplish a lot this first season, we will need a larger roster to get to where we ultimately want to be.  The men’s and women’s teams each took some time in the first few weeks to come up with their goals for their respective teams for this season and down the road.  They cover both performance goals and goals of building the culture of the teams.  Additionally, I have some goals for the future of the program that include being competitive with the top teams in the ODAC.

Emory and Henry College

Emory and Henry College is located in Emory, Virgina. The Emory and Henry women’s team was established back in 2012, and last year they finished 3rd at the ODAC championships. In his 2nd year of being the women’s head coach, Cody Skinner (bio can be found here) has also become head coach of the new men’s team. There are only 5 men listed on the roster as of now, but based on the speed at which the women’s program was built up to a top-3 conference contender, the men’s team could potentially be a top conference contender within a handful of seasons.

Q&A with head coach Cody Skinner:

Q: Has the women’s team already existing made it easier for the men’s team to start out as a new program?

A: The women’s team has definitely made it easier to start out a new program. They were a new team back in 2012 and have already qualified a swimmer twice to the NCAA Meet. They understand what it’s liked to be a new team and how to make it grow.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on the men’s first few meets?

A: The first few meets I’m expecting our team to gain some confidence and see how they grow each week.

Q: What are your plans for developing the men’s team?

A: My plan for developing the men’s team is adopting the same culture that our women’s team established back in 2012. This all starts with bringing in the right kind of student-athlete who pushes himself as hard in the pool/weight room as he does in the classroom.

Coach Skinner also added “Go Wasps!” and “Blue Collar Gold Standard!”.

Bridgewater College

Bridgewater College is located in Bridgewater, Virginia. Their inaugural men’s team has a total of 10 members, one of the largest rosters of the 8 new teams. Gwynn Harrison (bio can be found here) is the head coach of the new men’s team, and is also in her 2nd year as head coach of the women’s team. In her first season with Bridewater, Harrison led the team to 19 school records.

Q&A with head coach Harrison:

Q: Has the women’s team already existing made it easier for the men’s team to start out as a new program?

A: Yes.  I am glad to have an already established women’s team as we are building our men’s program at Bridgewater.  Our women have been great models in work ethic and team identity, and having them as examples for the men have really helped us to establish a great team culture form the beginning.  In fact, I often refer to this year not just as our first men’s team….but really our first coed team.  Because we work really hard on being one big happy family.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on the men’s first few meets?

A:  I have been really pleased with where our guys are, and how much they have improved.  Our team this year is primarily made up of beginners.  In fact, at our first meet (ODAC Relays on October 15th) I polled our team….and of our 10 members, this was the first time that 5 of them had even been AT a swim meet, even as a spectator.  We have a great group of guys on our team, and they have committed beyond my expectations to helping build this program from the ground up.  In our dual meets, they have been rising to the occasion and filling out the events so we put in a complete line-up.  They do not shy away from events that many seasoned swimmers often do.  Everyone of them have stepped outside their comfort zone many times this season already.  And I really appreciate that sort of attitude and commitment.

Q: What are your plans for developing the men’s team?

A:  Our new team was announced right around Thanksgiving last year, and as such we missed a big window of opportunity to recruit for this team.  So, I am looking forward to having a full recruiting class on years to come and build on what this first team has been able to get going.

 

 

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Great to see more collegiate swimming opportunities in Virginia!

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