The 2017-2018 NCAA swimming season marks a midway of the 5 year suspension of Western Kentucky University’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs, and a university spokesperson says that the program’s return is yet to be evaluated.
On April 14th, 2015, Western Kentucky announced that it had suspended its varsity men’s and women’s programs for 5 years and terminating all of the program’s coaches. That announcement came after a Title IX investigation into allegations by multiple former swimmers that the team partook in hazing and that the coaching staff knew about it and did nothing to intervene.
Further investigation revealed drugs in a house where the hazing was claimed to have occurred, as well as a “picture board” that included collages of highly intoxicated students in nude or partially nude positions, with at least one having a racial slur written on it.
When contacted, the school’s Associate Athletic Director for Athletic Communications and Media Relations Kyle Neaves says that the school “will evaluate the return of the swimming and diving program closer to the expiration of the five-year suspension.”
Neaves also says that the school has ramped up its effort to change the culture of the program. “We have greatly increased the emphasis in our discussions with our teams and student-athletes, both pre-season and in-season, on Title IX policy and the University’s strict no-hazing policy,” Neaves said.
Where are they now?
The cutting of the program meant that many coaches and athletes had the choice of ending their competing or coaching careers or picking up elsewhere. Those who decided to continue have spread across the county:
- The program’s former head coach Bruce Marchionda is currently the head coach of the TAC Titans in North Carolina.
- Former associate head coach Brian Thomas is entering his 2nd season as the head coach of St. Bonaventure, and over the weekend had a freshman swimmer break a school record in her first collegiate meet.
- The program’s former head diving coach Chelsea Ale was hired by Ohio University in 2015 as their head diving coach, before moving on to join the RipFest Diving Camp/Club. She’s now working as an independent fitness coach and diving consultant, among other things.
- The country’s highest-profile transfer swimmer, Fabien Schwingenschlogl, finished 6th in the 100 breaststroke in his sophomore year at Western Kentucky. After the program was suspended, he transferred to Missouri where he won the 2016 NCAA title in the same event – the first Missouri swimmer to ever win an event title. He finished his college career last season with 3 All-America first team honors. He wasn’t able to crack Germany’s squad for the 2016 Olympics or 2017 World Championships, but he did race at the World University Games and earn a bronze medal in the 50 breaststroke.
- The program’s most famous alumni, Claire Donahue, was training at Western Kentucky as a post-grad when the team was suspended. Donahue made the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team in the 100 fly and placed 7th. She won a gold medal as a prelims swimmer on the American women’s 400 medley relay as well. She and her coach Marchionda trained for a while at the South Florida Aquatic Club, and eventually she made her way to the post-grad group at Tennessee. Over the weekend, she was inducted into the Lenoir City High School Sports Hall of Fame. Donahue raced the 50 and 100 fly at this summer’s World Championship Trials. She was 16th overall in the 50 fly (27.22) and didn’t final in the 100 (1:00.14). Donahue hasn’t raced since Worlds Trials, and has made no specific announcement about her future in the sport.
- Nadine Laemmler, Schwingenschlogl’s girlfriend and fellow German, also transferred to Missouri, where she twice qualified for the NCAA Championships. In 2017, as a senior, she finished 7th in the 100 back at the NCAA Championships and earned 4 CSCAA All-America honors. She too raced at the World University Games, with a best finish of 11th in the 200 back (2:13.81).
- Zach Apple, who was originally committed to Western Kentucky but never wound up there, is now at Auburn and was one of the breakout swimmers nationally for Team USA this summer. At NCAAs he became the first sub-19 second American 50 freestyler for Auburn (they have quite a few international swimmers who have done it), and won a gold medal as a prelims swimmer on the American 400 free relay at the World Championships.
- Haley Black also found her way to Auburn, and last year as a junior broke the school record in the 100 yard fly (51.08) and placed 9th at NCAAs.