Update March 4: The men’s swimming and diving team finished in fourth place and the women’s team finished in seventh place at the Big East Championship over the weekend. Four Huskies earned All-Big East recognition by finishing in the top three of their respective competitions. For full results of the Big East Swimming and Diving Championships, see the men’s website and the women’s website.
Hired as a junior camp counselor in his native Massachusetts when he was 13 years old, Bob Goldberg was sent by the YMCA Camp athletic director to his assignment: “Goldy, go down and help in the pool.”
Goldberg, now in his 25th year as head coach of the Huskies’ swimming and diving teams, never left the swimming pool. He arrived in Storrs after coaching for 15 years at Penn State and three years at North Carolina State, in a career that has covered every aspect of aquatics, from sailing and scuba diving to swimming and diving.
This weekend, Goldberg leads the Huskies to Indianapolis for the Big East Championships, a prelude to qualifying swimmers and divers for the NCAA Championships next month in the same city.
Since 1988, Goldberg has produced swimmers and divers who have won New England, Big East ECAC, and YMCA National titles; and since 2002, has regularly produced NCAA qualifiers and, under diving coach John Bransfield, NCAA Zone champions. His teams have posted a winning record every year, and his student-athletes have been recognized each year as an All-Academic Team by the College Coaches Association.
“You’re dealing with fabulous kids,” Goldberg says about the success of his student-athletes. “I don’t coach swimming. I coach kids who are swimmers. The kids make it so interesting. They’re not doing it for headlines or for a pro contract. More than half of our team are walk-ons and get no scholarship. Those that get them are all [on] partial [scholarships]. They’re doing it because they want to do it. To me, that’s the motivating thing. I want to make it as good as I can for them. That’s my goal. It sounds a little corny, but that’s the truth.”
He says that while training techniques and swim suits have improved, the core of swimming and diving has not changed during his 43 years as a coach.
“When we get in the swimming pool, you’ve got a kid in five ounces of Lycra. There are no pads, or helmet,” Goldberg says. “You’re up there by yourself. It’s pretty fundamental; me against you. The pool is the same length. It’s the same basic principle of training a kid to be his or her best.”
Training for swimming and diving season spans the entire year, with dual meets used to prepare everyone for conference championship and NCAA competition. Goldberg says the strategy at UConn is to train intensely for most of the season and then lessen the pace just before the conference and NCAA qualifying time period.
“In the most basic terms, we try to get the kids really tired early. Everybody knows swimmers do double sessions each day,” he says. “We’re here at 6 in the morning four days a week plus Saturdays. Everyone comes back again later. To do the training yardage you need to do, you have to swim twice a day. We tire them out, don’t let them rest, so they get used to functioning that way.”
The Huskies compete in consecutive meets, not taking time off as some teams do. Then as the preparation for the upcoming Big East and NCAA championships nears, there is more rest for the student-athletes, and that re-energizes them.
“Hopefully you hit it right,” Goldberg says. “The basis of swimming is you have to pick your priorities. For us it’s the conference event coming up this week. In swimming, you swim fast when you rest. Some schools in the conference will do it two or three times during the year, and give it their best shot at conference meet. We only do it once before the conference meet, because we think that’s a better approach. In most of the [regular season] events, we’re going [to finish] lower in the [team] events because most of the other schools have had a rest meet.”
One of the factors to consider this season, he adds, is that the criterion in swimming for NCAA qualification has changed. In the past, some swimmers would qualify as one of the 270 to compete in the NCAA championships through team relay events. This year, only individual event swimmers will be eligible to compete.
“It’s more realistic [for competitors],” Goldberg says. “We’re excited about that. It’s a new formula that will make it better for schools like us. The UConn Open tune-up meet we had recently was a chance to do your event, to focus on yourself, not worry about team points, and get into your event before we started resting.”
Goldberg says several Huskies are poised to have good results in the Big East Championships and qualify for the NCAA Championships.
Senior freestyler Kyungsoo Yoon ’13 (BUS) is having his best season in the pool in 2013. Backstroke specialist Keith Piper ’14 (BUS), freestyler Sean Battle ’14 (CLAS), breaststroke specialist Lachezar Shumkov ’15 (ENG), and freshman Mike Lennon ’16 (CLAS), a freestyler, have all shown improvement throughout the season on the men’s side.
For the women’s team, Jordan Bowen ’13 (ED), a freestyler, holds several UConn records and is poised to cap her senior year in the championships. Medley and freestyler Mary DeMarrais ’13 (ED), breaststroke specialist Kate O’Leary ’13 (CLAS), backstroker Kati Kyle ’14 (CLAS), along with freshmen backstroker Kennedy Meier ’16 (CLAS) and medley and freestyler Rachel Burke ’16 (CLAS), will all be competitive in the championships.
Seniors Grant Fecteau ’13 (CLAS) and Danielle Cecco ’13 (CLAS) will lead the divers into competition.
“Most of the kids who are successful are because they want to be here,” Goldberg says. “They love the sport. Most of them don’t want it to end. We have a school that can recruit swimmers.”