Notre Dame Scores Best Finish Ever at NCAAs Under New Coach (1st Year Head Coach Review)

Longtime Louisville assistant Chris Lindauer engineered a quick turnaround during his first year as head coach at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish totaled 62 points en route to an 18th-place finish at last week’s NCAA Championships — their best team result in program history — jumping up 15 spots from last year. Lindauer’s crew scored 47 more points than projected, breaking seven school records with only three individual qualifiers.

Under Lindauer’s leadership, Jack Hoagland returned from injury to cap off his senior season with a 5th-place finish in the 1650 free (14:38.64) along with B-final appearances in the 500 free (4:12.49 for 10th place) and 400 IM (3:40.82 for 12th place). The future of the Fighting Irish program appears bright with sophomore Chris Guiliano (9th place in 200 free, 10th in 100 free) and freshman Tommy Janton (14th in 100 back, 10th in 200 back) putting up breakout performances.

The next task for Lindauer is elevating the women’s program to a similar standard. The Irish women sent two swimmers and two divers to NCAAs compared to seven swimmers and one diver for the men. Check out our reviews of other first-year Division I coaches below:

Pitt – Chase Kreitler

Kreitler overcame an exodus of transfers to make his first year at Pitt one to remember. The former Cal assistant led the Panthers to their best ACC finish (7th place) in school history, and they didn’t slow down at NCAAs en route to a 33rd-place showing. The men’s 400 medley relay team tallied points with a 16th-place finish, the program’s first relay to score since 2002. Overall, Pitt brought 12 men to Minneapolis last week, the school’s largest contingent ever. On the women’s side, junior Sophie Yendell placed 18th in the 50 free (22.02), marking the program’s best finish since Lina Rathsack scored in the 100 breast back in 2017. In total, the Panthers broke 31 school records this season. They boasted a pair of individual scorers between 16th-place finishers Cooper Van Der Laan (100 breast, 51.72) and Dylan Reed (1-meter, 322.1).

USC – Lea Maurer

At first glance, Maurer’s first full season as USC’s head coach (without the interim tag) might seem like a success. Both the Trojan men and women moved up four places at NCAAS, finishing in 22nd and 12th place, respectively. However, all 31 men’s points this year came courtesy of diver Shangfei Wang. While their 22nd-place finish is the men’s program’s best since 2019, it’s also just the second time in school history that all points were scored by divers. The women also posted their best finish since 2019, but they were also led by divers in senior Carolina Sculti (26 points) and senior Nike Agunbiade (18 points). USC might not have the luxury of being saved by the boards next season.

Georgia – Neil Versfeld (men’s) and Stefanie Williams Moreno (women’s)

Given that Georgia was missing its high-scoring trio of Matt Sates (left NCAA after a semester), Luca Urlando (injury), and Dakota Luther (transfer) from last year, it’s impressive that the Bulldogs didn’t drop even farther down the standings this year in their first season without legendary Olympic coach Jack Bauerle. Versfeld and the men fell two spots compared to last year at SECs with a 5th-place finish before dropping four spots to 12th at NCAAs. Their biggest remaining star on the roster, Jake Magahey, was slightly slower at NCAAs this year in his distance free events, but he still placed 3rd in both the 500 and 1650 free. Meanwhile, Williams Moreno and the Georgia women fell two spots at SECs and only one place at NCAAs. Among the highlights for the Bulldog women was sophomore Rachel Stege, who won the 500 free title at SECs with her first best time in the event since 2020. Both Versfeld and Williams Moreno are Bulldog alums who trained under Bauerle.

“It’s been a lot more oriented toward us and the girls, because now we are a split program, which I think has its benefits to us as well,” said Georgia senior Zoie Hartman, who won the 200 IM title at SECs last month. “Training this year has gone really, really well not just for me, but for a lot of other girls. I feel like Stef has given us something to fight for. She’s such an inspirational woman. I think that’s the difference: She will stand up and fight for us no matter what. We feel that, so I feel like that’s what’s changed.”

Illinois – Jeana Kempe

Kempe’s first season at Illinois featured a few notable accomplishments. The Illini posted a 6-3 record in dual meets, their most wins since the 2018-19 season, when they went 7-5. At the Big Ten Championships, they placed 11th out of 12 teams with 215 points, their highest total since 2016. Illinois freshman Sara Jass led the way at Big Tens with 18 individual points and a C-final victory in the 200 breast (2:14.40). At the CSCAA National Invitational Championships in March, freshman Liv Dorhost broke a 21-year-old school record in the 1650 free (16:33.79) to punctuate the Illini’s campaign. Before being hired by Illinois last April, Kempe worked as an assistant coach at South Carolina, Auburn, and LSU.

Utah – Jonas Persson

Persson guided Utah to a 27th-place finish at NCAAs this season, marking a jump of 10 spots in the standings. Last year, the Utes’ only points came from a 16th-place finish in the 200 medley relay. This time around, fifth year Andrei Ungur accounted for all 14 points with his fifth-place finish in the 100 back (44.58), breaking 45 seconds for the first time. The Romanian native set two individual program records and was part of two record-setting relay squads at his final NCAAs. At last month’s Pac-12 Championships, Utah scored 36.5 more points than last year while once again placing 6th. Persson had previously served as associate head coach in Salt Lake City for three seasons before his promotion last May.

Tulane – Amanda Caldwell

Caldwell was dealt a tough hand this season as she took over Tulane’s women-only swim program last September — after the fall semester had already started — with the Green Wave still lacking an on-campus aquatic facility. They finished last out of nine teams at the 2023 AAC Championships, a step back from their third-place finish among five teams last year. After the season, top freshman recruit Isabella Lojewski entered the transfer portal along with three other Tulane swimmers. A rebound could be on the horizon, however, as the Green Wave recently announced that their newly-renovated Reily Natatorium should be ready for use by early fall of this year.

Hawaii – Mike Stephens

Stephens, the former Boston College head coach, brought an infectious optimism to Honolulu that helped spark Hawaii’s best season in years. The Rainbow Wahine qualified their first relay since 2005 in epic fashion at the end of Georgia’s Last Chance meet, demolishing the 400 free relay program record they had already crushed midseason. Fifth year transfer Laticia Transom arrived from USC and capped her season with a tie for 7th place in the 100 free (47.39), becoming the school’s first A-finalist at NCAAs since 2019, when Phoebe Hines placed 5th in the 1650 free.

Boston College – Joe Brinkman

Brinkman’s BC squads both finished 12th at ACCs this year, but the former Notre Dame assistant oversaw a slew of program records that were broken during his first year calling the shots in Chestnut Hill. The Eagles took down three school records and 15 pool records during a dominant performance against rival BU in January. Last November, they also rewrote their record books with Adair Sand (school records in women’s 100 free, 200 back, and 200 free) and Jack Doyle (schools records in 200 IM and 400 IM) leading the way.

Fairfield – Jacy Dyer

Dyer was the only new coach we could find who earned a Coach of the Year honor in her first season. A former standout swimmer at Toledo, this was her first head coaching job after a couple of seasons at her alma mater, James Madison, and Virginia Tech as an assistant. The Fairfield women won the conference title after placing 3rd last season (albeit a close 3rd), and Dyer was named the MAAC Women’s Swimming Coach of the Year. They snuck 4 points ahead of the defending champions from Niagara. The men slipped to 5th place, but their 556.5 points were only 18.5 points fewer than last year.

Dartmouth – Milana Socha

Socha came to Dartmouth after two years as an assistant coach at Northwestern. She inherited a tough situation in the wake of former head coach Jesse Moore’s departure for Cal, especially considering that the Big Green’s program had only recently been revived from the dead. Nevertheless, the Dartmouth men saw some improvement at this year’s Ivy League Championships, scoring 74 more points than last year and breaking a program record in the 200 free relay. Meanwhile, the women took a step back, scoring 307.5 less points than last year and dropping one spot from 7th to last place. But freshman Julianna Jones still managed to impress with a school-record 4:18.63 in the 400 IM, becoming the first woman in program history under 4:20 by a wide margin.

Holy Cross – Kristy Jones

During Jones’ first year at Holy Cross, located only about 45 minutes away from her last job coaching Division III Babson College, both the men’s and women’s teams put up another 9th-place showing at the Patriot League Championships. Still, there’s reason for optimism around the program: The Crusaders set 82 lifetime bests and broke 15 team records last season.

Rhode Island – Lilli Falconer Deering

Rhode Island remained relatively stagnant in Falconer Deering’s first season as head coach without an interim tag. The Rams scored nine more points than last year at the Atlantic 10 Championships (83 vs. 72), but they still finished last out of 11 teams in the conference.

Stony Brook – Mark Anderson

A former Stony Brook swimmer, Anderson had his interim coaching tag removed last March following a tumultuous season. The Seawolves finished 4-2 in dual meets last year but didn’t compete at the America East Championships because the conference barred them ahead of their impending move to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). This year, Stony Brook placed 8th out of eight teams at CAAs — somewhat of a rude welcome to the conference. But a bright spot was freshman Michelle Vu, who led off the Seawolves’ 200 free relay with a 23.69 split to reset a program record that lasted nearly 12 years.

Virginia Military Institute – Scott Thacker

Thacker arrived at VMI last April from Division III Roanoke College, where he had spent the previous five seasons. Last month, the Keydets broke 11 school records at their first America East Championships under Thacker. The men scored more points than last year (302 vs. 293), placing 5th out of six teams compared to 5th out of five teams last season. The women remained in last place, regressing slightly with 141 points compared to 157 last year.

Seattle University – Joe Dykstra

After nine seasons at Utah, Dykstra resigned in March and took the Seattle head coaching job a few months later. The Redhawks didn’t improve in the Western Athletic Conference standings in Dykstra’s first season at the helm, but they did achieve major program milestones. Seattle sophomore Nicholas Imig became the first swimmer in school history to break 20 seconds in the 50 free (19.88) and fellow sophomore Cole Lanting went 1:48.95 in the 200 IM to take down a program record that stood since 2008 — the oldest on the books. And even though they still placed last in the conference at the WAC Championships, the men scored 68 more points than last season and the women scored 24 more.

Georgia Southern – Allyson Sweeney

Taking on her first collegiate head coaching job at Georgia Southern, Sweeney walked into a tough situation — she was the ‘waterfall’ of Amanda Caldwell leaving after the start of the season to take the job at Tulane. In spite of that, the team managed 2 school records at the CCSA Championships, along with 26 personal bests and 8 times that rank in the top 5 in school history. The CCSA had a big shift in teams participating from last year to this year, so it’s hard to make any perfect comparisons, but at a squinty-eyed look, it seems like their performance was about the same as last year’s meet. While it takes a couple of years to really get a feel for a coach’s performance at a new school in any circumstance, Sweeney is owed some additional grace given the lack of a pre-season opportunity.

St. Bonaventure – Mike Smiechowski

The St. Bonaventure women finished 9th of 11 teams and the St. Bonaventure men finished 6th out of 8 teams at the A-10 Championships this year. That’s a drop on both sides by rank: last year, the women were 8th and the men were 3rd. Neither team lost as many points as you might expect from the ranking change. There were lots of positives though – the school record book had been pretty stagnant for a while, but the Bonnies beat up that record book pretty good. At the A-10 Championships, the men broke records in the 200 fly (Alexander Behr, 1:44.91 in prelims also a conference record, 1:44.47 in finals), the 100 fly (47.44), the 1650 free (Maxwell Murray, 15:35.19, which had stood since 1997), the 1000 free (Murray’s split), and the 500 free (again Murray, in 4:22.92). The women got new school records in the 200 fly (Silvana Cabrera, 1:59.70) and 200 free relay (1:32.81). The A-10 Championships were tough this year, but St. Bonaventure arguably improved their performance, even if the rank didn’t show it.

Towson – Anthony Bruno

Bruno took over after Jake Shrum left to become an assistant at his alma mater Virginia. Bruno was formerly at Fairfield as the head coach. Coaching Brian Benzing to an All-America finish in the 100 breaststroke (51.48) in his first season is a dream scenario for Bruno and something to build off. Overall results were mixed in year 1, though: the Towson men finished 3rd at the CAA Championships (577.5 points), which was an improvement of 26 points from last year, and the Towson women finished 5th (460 points), which is a drop of 179.5 points from last year. For the men to improve, though, is impressive given the scale of the senior class that they graduated at the end of last season.

Saint Peter’s – Jose Cruz

In Cruz’s first season, Saint Peter’s didn’t compete in the MAAC Championships, instead wrapping their season at the ECAC Championships. There, the men were 14th out of 18 teams and the women were 18th out of 18 teams (with many of those teams being partial rosters). His big task will be growing the roster — the team only had 11 men and 7 women on their roster this season. That’s a significant dropoff from the 23 and 14 they had in the 2018-2019 season and 20 and 16 they had in the 2019-2020 season.

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17 days ago

Amanda Caldwell is the reason why Tulane women placed last at their Championship meet, not the lack of campus pool. Previous Tulane coaches struggled with lack of pool as well and somehow Tulane women did fantastic job in previous season. Look how well Georgia Southern did when Amanda Caldwell left.

2 months ago

Missing UIC, EIU, SLU

Coach B
2 months ago

How about Mike Smiechowski at Bonaventure? Made a huge jump from d3 to d1 head coach and had massive improvements across the board. Also elite level recruiter and building that program into something special

Cmon Man
2 months ago

Allyson Sweeney?

Noah F
2 months ago

Awesome to see Coach Kreitler do so well in his first season at Pitt. Competing in the ACC is a tall task, but only up from here.

Pitt Swammer
Reply to  Noah F
2 months ago

While Chase may look good on paper his swimmers are MISERABLE.

2 months ago

Congratulations to Coach Lindauer and staff for redirecting and re- energizing ND S&D. It’s been a long time since fans have seen the ND bench that together, energized, and all in.

Cold Water
Reply to  Swammer
2 months ago

It has been a long time since the women have not scored at NCAA’s too…

Pitt Swammer
Reply to  Swammer
2 months ago

While Chase may look good on paper his swimmer are MISERABLE.

2 months ago

Lindauer, Persson and Dykstra all are great young coaches with bright futures. Impressed SwimSwam recognized several great coaches in addition to Coach Durden. Well done to all!

Pitt Swammer
Reply to  Bupwaa
2 months ago

While Chase may look good on paper his swimmers are MISERABLE

I Still Call It FINA
2 months ago

Jacy Dyer MAAC Coach of the Year for Fairfield

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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