Hasty Awards Team of the Month: UNC Wilmington Seahawks

When Bobby Guntoro worked as associate head coach at NC State, head coach Braden Holloway once asked him for a smoke machine and spotlight to add theatrics to the Wolfpack’s home meet walk-outs.

“I thought he was kidding,” Guntoro recalled. “He was not. That’s when I realized we should be in the business of entertaining.”

Embracing the belief that swimming should be fun has helped Guntoro reach new heights in his fourth season leading his alma mater, UNC Wilmington. After the Seahawks beat the South Carolina men for the first time since 2002 and put up some impressive performances in an atypical meet format against Tennessee, they received two votes in the first College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Division I Top 25 poll released Thursday.

“I dream to build a top 25 team here at UNCW — my home,” said Guntoro, who guided the UNCW men and women to Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) titles last season — their first sweep since 2006. “While we have ways to go, receiving votes to be in the top 25 is a great start. Keep me believing in my dream. We’re going to continue to focus on what we have and taking our best shot.”

Guntoro’s specialties lie in the realm of sprinting, and they seem to be paying dividends so far this season. Two weeks ago against South Carolina, UNCW junior Jacob Duracinsky swept the 100 free (45.66) and 200 free (1:40.69), junior Noah Sipowski triumphed in the 50 free (20.98), junior David Fitch took the 100 fly title (49.35), and freshman William Carrico earned a crucial victory in the 400 IM (3:59.84) to help the Seahawks pull off the 158-142 upset.

Last week against Tennessee, UNCW sophomore Paddy Morris impressed in the no-rules men’s 200 free relay with fins and unlimited underwaters with a 16.80 split on the third leg — only a second off the unofficial record of 15.80 clocked by Arizona State’s Cody Bybee last season. The Seahawks also swept the sprint breaststroke events with sophomore Gil Shaw winning the women’s 50 breast (29.76) and senior Dylan Citta, a University of North Carolina transfer, claiming the men’s 50 breast title in 25.54. Duracinsky and Shaw were awarded CAA Swimmer of the Week honors on Tuesday for their early-season performances.

Outside of the pool, Guntoro’s progress building the program has been just as noteworthy. He has put an emphasis on community outreach, developing a learn-to-swim program called Wilmington Swim Academy that is staffed by members of the varsity team. In addition to the obvious benefits, it’s one way to start creating a fanbase and an audience. Guntoro also reached out to local summer league teams and scheduled UNCW’s dual meets for Friday afternoons (instead of Saturday mornings when college kids aren’t awake yet) to ensure packed houses at the David B. Allen Natatorium.

Just watch the atmosphere last month when Sipowsky, Duracinsky, Mac Russell, and Kenneth Lowe combined for a 1:22.35 in the men’s 200 free relay to clinch the Seahawks’ first victory over the South Carolina men in 21 years. It’s exactly the kind of energy so desperately needed to inject more excitement into the college swimming world. Perhaps the meet had a little extra meaning for Guntoro, who was coached in high school by Gamecocks head coach Jeff Poppell.

The following week against Tennessee, Guntoro opted for an unscored matchup featuring unconventional events such as a no-rules 50 free with fins, a 200 free fins relay, and even a coaches relay. He cited the length of the NCAA swimming season and the mental health of his athletes as reasons for switching it up.

“It’s such a long season, 26 weeks — we’re not really peaking until February,” said Guntoro, who hopped in the pool himself and split 23.30 as part of a mixed 150 free coaches’ relay. “I think the mental health of student athletes is very important for us. Last weekend, we had a great turnout, a great competition against South Carolina. Going into this weekend, I talked with Tennessee head coach Matt Kredich about creating something different, creating something fun like 4×50 free fins relay and 50 free fins — no rules, just do whatever you want to do. Swimming fast, but at the same time, having fun.

“We had a packed house for the second week in a row, and there were a lot of kids up there. This is like the summer league,” Guntoro said. “Summer league is where all the fun begins. We want to bring that summer league fun into the big kids’ league. I love what we created here today, kudos to Tennessee for going all in with our plan. It was just a lot of fun all around.”

Just a decade ago, a committee recommended UNCW cut its swimming program to save money. But now the Seahawks are thriving under the leadership of Guntoro and making noise on the national stage.

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About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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