It was, let’s face it, a low bar. But the Ute swim team has seen a dramatic turnaround since the departure of head coach Greg Winslow and the hire of Joe Dykstra.
Utah will send 17 athletes to the NCAA Championships this month, up from three in 2013.
NCAA Women’s Swim Championships
"It’s pretty much the same athletes," Dykstra said. "I don’t consider myself some kind of miracle-worker swim coach. I think just getting them excited and motivated is what’s made the biggest difference."
Winslow was suspended last February and his contract was not renewed after a wide range of allegations, including that he showed up to practice drunk and was physically and verbally abusive. By some measures he was a competent coach, says assistant Jonas Persson, but "he was not a good head coach or administrator or boss."
While Winslow was authoritarian, Dykstra rarely raises his voice except to be heard over the din.
"When I do get loud, that’s when someone’s doing really great," he said.
Junior sprinter Nick Soedel said the mood before meets is different now. In the past, failure meant getting chewed out by Winslow in the locker room. Now, "we’re excited to swim and we’re not nervous or afraid."
Dykstra was the head coach at the University of North Texas for seven years. He was happy with his job, he said, but when the U. reached out to him, he couldn’t say no.
Thus far, there has been a lot for Dykstra to positively reinforce.
On the men’s side, Bence Kiraly (1,650 free), Kristian Kron (200 back), Nick Soedel (100 free, 50 free) and diver Josiah Purss will compete in individual events at the NCAA Championships, and Utah is also eligible for the 200 free, 400 free, 800 free and 400 medley relays.
Kiraly swam butterfly and middle-distance events last year, but Dykstra saw the Hungarian’s distance per stroke in the water and decided he was tailor-made for the sport’s longest race. Because of Kiraly’s lower-distance background, the sophomore can hit an extra gear when he needs to.
"I know that if I’m in the race around 1,000 or 1,200, then I have a chance at the end," he said.
Traycie Swartz, Stina Colleou, Nicole Ligeza, Samantha Zuch and diver Kersten Merry will represent the Ute women, who will also field 400 medley and 800 free relays.
Swartz, a senior, made NCAAs as a sophomore but "had a little dip in performance last year with everything that was going on," said Dykstra. He altered her training to focus specifically on sprint freestyle, and this year she set the school record in the 50 free and the 100 free.
"This is definitely the best year that I’ve had in training probably my whole life," Swarz said. "Very different from anything I’ve ever done — a lot more sprint-oriented — but I think that’s what I needed."
The men’s championships will be held in Austin, Texas, from March 27 to March 29, and the women’s championships are in Minneapolis Thursday through Saturday.
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