The UW-River Falls swimming and diving team unified together to save the program and find a head coach with their season set to start in less than a month.
The team is scheduled to have their first meet on Oct. 19, at home against UW-Oshkosh, but after former head coach Ryan Hawke left UWRF two months before the season, it was a scramble to find a new coach.
“We immediately put together a description locally and regionally looking for either an assistant coach on another team, or a grad assistant that would be qualified and interested in the position,” said UWRF Athletic Director Roger Ternes.
Ternes sent out an email to the team telling them their program would be suspended if a coach was not found by the start of the academic year, according to an article in swimmingworldmagazine.com.
The athletic department brought in two qualified candidates to interview for the job. One applicant withdrew his name before he interviewed, and the other candidate later withdrew his name after the interview.
Ternes said that the athletic department had been in constant communication with the team throughout the process and after the last applicant took his name out they set up a meeting to discuss the future.
“We had a meeting with Ternes, Crystal Lanning (Assistant Athletic Director) and Jim Thies (Sports Information Director) about the direction the team was going,” said junior swimmer Lucas Hetzel. “They told us we were in danger of being suspended if we did not find a coach so we convinced them to let us go out and search for one ourselves. They gave us one week.”
With one week to find a candidate, the whole swim team came together looking for possible candidates.
“In other sports like basketball and hockey there is a big difference between the men’s and women’s team, with swimming we are one team and we all have come together in this,” Hetzel said.
Sophomore swimmer Michael Landorf said, “The athletic department for whatever reason had not posted the job on the WIAC or NCAA swim pages, so we went and did it ourselves. In three days we had eight applicants.”
Ternes said that the WIAC does not post vacancies, but every WIAC school which supports swimming and diving was notified by the athletic department.
Late last week the athletic department interviewed two qualified candidates out of the eight the swim team had received, and early this week ran background checks and references on both, according to Ternes.
Mike Bollinger was announced the new head coach late Wednesday afternoon, according to uwrfsports.com. Bollinger was previously the head coach of the girl’s swimming and diving team at Simley High School in Inver Grove Heights, Minn.
When asked how the swimming and diving team was able to find so many candidates in such a short time on their own Ternes said, “I am not sure how so many new applicants found out, I think from re-posting it online and through connections with swim clubs around the whole region.”
There was talk that the swim team would join the swim club on campus if the program was suspended, but that is an option that Hetzel said the team tried not to talk about.
“We were determined that we would have a season this year,” Hetzel said. “That is something that we did not want to face until we will tried every last thing we could.”
Ternes said he was very pleased with the passion he has seen in the swim team about their sport through this whole situation.
UWRF is one of six WIAC schools that have swimming and diving programs. Currently UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Whitewater are the other swimming and diving programs. Last season UWRF finished fifth in the WIAC men’s championships and sixth in the WIAC women’s championships, according to wiacsports.com
UWRF has been improving as of late and saw school records broken last year in multiple areas.
For the men’s program, David Zaske, Victor Lara, Andrew Keller and Hetzel all landed into UWRF’s top times. Hannah Wiseman and Sarah Kock, who both graduated, landed into top times for the women’s program. Returners Candy Hoelzel also made UWRF history, and Abby Dvorak led in diving categories last season.
“Facts are facts, we moved up last year in times and look to give it a run again this year,” Landorf said. “This was a real unifying gesture for the team. We stood ground, planted our feet and fought for this team.”