A new era in Toledo women’s swimming and diving will emerge in 2016-17, as first-year head coach Jonas Persson aims to lead the Rockets back to the top of the Mid-American Conference.
“I am excited to create my own culture at Toledo,” said Persson. “We excel academically but the athletes haven’t really been provided with the tools to excel athletically. The culture that I construct will be sustainable in the future of UT swimming and diving.”
Persson inherits the UT program after spending the last five years as the head sprint coach at the University of Utah. At Utah, he helped student-athletes break every men’s team record and 17 women’s team records, as well as helping them set 55 top-10 all-time performances. He has coached seven swimmers to NCAA Championship appearances and 11 swimmers who ranked in the top 50 nationally.
Persson is excited to be at UT and have the opportunity to guide the Midnight Blue & Gold. He has seen progress in his first pre-season, but he knows this year will be a learning process for everyone. Taking the reins of a new program late in the game is a challenging task. Persson’s primary focus has been on his relationship with his student-athletes.
“It was my No. 1 priority to contact the team as soon as I was hired so that they could get to know who I am and where I want to take the direction of this program,” Persson said. “My coaching philosophy is simple: treat the student-athletes how I wanted to be treated when I was a swimmer. By having that simple approach and caring about them as individuals, they’re then able to see the passion our coaching staff has for the sport. They trust in our process and know that we will push them to their potential.”
The 2016-17 squad will be smaller than in prior seasons but experienced with one senior, 11 juniors, three sophomores and five freshman on UT’s 20-women roster. Despite joining the program without having time to recruit more student-athletes, Persson has been pleased with the attitude and effort of the team.
“Our senior (Rachael Hester) as well as the juniors have really bought in to what we’re doing as a coaching staff,” Persson said. “Our veterans really like what we are doing; they appreciate the way we treat them, the way we coach and practice, and our approach to the sport. I think the team is happy because they’re making the changes that we are asking them to do; we are providing them with the opportunity to succeed and they’re really taking advantage of it. The team just enjoys being at practice and it’s often the highlight of their day; they enjoy being here and a part of this team.”
While this year’s team may lack depth, Persson and his staff will look to the upperclassmen to lead and re-establish the winning culture of the program that won conference titles in 2010 and 2012. Toledo finished last season with a 2-6 dual-meet record, 1-4 in league matchups. The Rockets finished seventh in last season’s MAC Championships for the third-consecutive year.
“Lars Jorgenson was Toledo’s head coach during the 2010 and 2012 seasons,” said Persson. “When he left UT to coach at Tennessee, I was an assistant coach for the Volunteers. Lars took me under his wing and I developed his same coaching philosophies. Knowing Lars and the success he had with the Rockets makes me very confident that I can achieve the same results.
“I think it will take a couple of years, maybe two or three, to really show what Toledo is made of,” continued Persson. “However, I think people will definitely see signs of it this year and even more next year. After that, I think we are going to be top three in the league and go on to win some MAC championships as well.”
A Look at the 2016-17 Rockets by Event
Leading the way in the sprint events are juniors Gabbi Haaraoja and Allison Dicke, while freshmen Anna Dunphy and Isobel (Izzy) Jones look to add depth behind the veterans.
Persson: “Our top two times in the 50 free have come from Gabbi and Allison. They are both very hard workers, but because of the coaching transitions they have not been given the kind of sprint training I would have liked to provide them with. They have great potential and we should look out for them both in the 50 and the 100 freestyle. In addition to our vets, we have Anna and Izzy who are looking to make an impact in the sprint free as. I anticipate that they will all step into the 200 free and make an impact there as well.”
The Rockets return two of their top distance swimmers in senior Rachael Hester and junior Maggie Hack. Hester recorded 11 top-five finishes last season and recorded the fastest UT time in the 1,000 and 1,650 freestyles. Hack returns the fastest 500 free time from the veteran class.
Persson: “In the 1,650-meter, our impact swimmers are Maggie and Rachael. They have our top two times and they are very, very close, like within a half second of each other. I am excited to watch them push each other this season. In the 500 free, I anticipate that Izzy, Maggie, Rachael, Anna and Emily Frederick will all have a great impact.”
Hopes are high for a group of young breaststroke swimmers that are expected to lead the Rockets in 2016-17. Freshmen Maureen O’Sullivan, as well as Dunphy and Jones, are expected to record top times. Junior Allie Brinkhoff is a high-performer who will join the strong group of incoming swimmers.
Persson: “In the 100 backstroke we’re certainly looking at our freshmen Maureen and Anna to make a strong impact. At the 200 back, Izzy is touching at the fastest time, but also in the mix will be Maureen, Anna and Allie.”
The Rockets are once again led in the butterfly by Kat Streicher, who posted the fastest times in the 100 and 200 last season. Streicher will be backed by juniors Emily Frederick and Madeline Grubbe, as well as sophomore Bailey Cahill.
Persson: Our top butterfly right now is Kat. She currently holds the fastest times in both the 100 and 200, but Bailey is right there fighting her for the top times. I also think that Maddie is going to have a great impact at 100 fly and Emily is going to have a great 200 fly.
Toledo will be without 2016 NCAA qualifier and former Rocket Sammy Richart, one of its strongest performers throughout last season, but will return junior Jessica Avery who placed either first or second in every regular-season 200 breaststroke race. Avery will be joined by juniors Ciana Heaston and Brittany Puthoff, sophomore Karley Mattson, and promising freshman Bec Welke.
Persson: “Jess leads the field in both the 100 and 200, and I think she has a great chance of ending up top-five in the MAC. We also have a great group of swimmers behind her with Ciana, Brittney, Karley, and our freshman Bec. I have a feeling that Bec is going to challenge Jessica for the top spot in the 100 breast.”
With a pool of versatile swimmers such as, the individual medley relay will prove to be a strong event for the Rockets.
Persson: “Kat and Izzy are fighting for the top spot in the 200, while Rachael, Allie and Emily are all challenging one another for the top time in the 400.”
Coming off strong performances last season, UT will look to put together relay groups that are just as talented as years past. However, with a thin roster and event limitations for each swimmer, it will be challenging to delegate events among the talented and versatile group of student-athletes.
Persson: “I have to analyze each meet separately and determine what our priorities will be for that particular contest; I will look at where we can score the most points against the competition and what difference it can make in the end result.”
After graduating former diver Jamie Schindler, the Rockets will look to junior co-captain Danielle Forbes to represent Toledo in the 2016-17 season.
Persson: “Danielle is really making strides this season. She came in as a great recruit a couple of years ago. She has big goals and I’m looking forward to seeing her accomplish them this year.”
Persson: “I think there are going to be a lot surprises this season. People aren’t expecting much out of Toledo, especially other coaches. I think it’s a great thing so there will be some surprises out there. They are doing really great things, I think a lot of coaches aren’t taking us into consideration and that’s a good thing because there is nothing to lose.”
Courtesy of Toledo Athletics.