The Wheaton College men's and women's swimming and diving teams begin year one under head coach Barrett Roberts in 2011-12. A three-time All-America selection and the 2006 New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Swimmer of the Year, Roberts is happy to be back in Norton at the helm of the program he was successful for as a student-athlete.
"It's been really great. The transition has gone really well, both for myself and the student-athletes," said Roberts. "I don't think they were expecting to be worked as hard this early, but they've really responded well and stepped up. We've had some really tough practices that have been hard to remain positive through, but they've done that. Now, they're really looking forward to the opportunity to race after five weeks of straight training. The last two weeks leading up to the first race are the toughest parts of the season. You've been training for five weeks, you can't lift your arms, you've been staring at the tiles on the bottom of the pool six days a week for two-and-a-half hours a day. Now, you have something to look forward to at the end of every week."
Roberts returned to Wheaton in July but says the 'late start' hasn't hindered his ability to field a successful squad. "I had a list of names, times, and events when I got here. I've been pleasantly surprised with the team I ended up with in terms of the freshman and their ability level. It's not a huge (freshman) class, but we have some very talented swimmers."
Upon graduating from Wheaton in 2007, Roberts held assistant coaching positions at Tufts (2008-10) and Springfield (2010-11) before taking over the head coaching reigns of the Lyons program.
"As an assistant coach, your job is to coach," explains Roberts. "As a head coach, it's your job to coach, recruit, manage athletes, keep them positive, deal with their problems, make sure they get good grades….you wear one hat as an assistant coach – and that's to coach. When you're the head coach, you wear 10 hats, and only one is actual coaching. Not that it was a surprise by any means, but that's definitely been the biggest transition. You also think more long-term as a head coach as opposed to an assistant coach. You're planning today's practice as an assistant, where as a head coach you're planning out the season in terms of practices. You look at when you're going to peak training and when you're going to recover. You figure out when to really push and when to pull back."
He added: "The amount of pride I had in the program before becoming the head coach was incredible, and it increases with every day we spent in the pool. It's amazing to see what these kids do every single day – tutors, teaching assistants, pre-med majors, student government – and yet they still come to practice every day for two-and-a-half hours and give me a max effort. That's incredible. The devotion to attaining their goals is amazing. The student-athletes make me feel proud to coach this program."
Despite being just four years removed from his days as a student-athlete, Roberts feels his youthfulness helps his relate better to his student-athletes on a number of levels. "It's nice for me to remember what it's like to be where they are right now. I keep that in mind when I'm asking for a lot – during mid-terms week, for example, when everyone's stress level is very high and they're exhausted from studying and I'm asking them to do something crazy at practice. It's nice to be able to look back and remember how hard that week was when I was a student-athlete, or how hard week five of practice is when you haven't competed yet. I remember the things I wished we could do when I was going through some of the things they are. Then, I'm able to make adjustments based on knowing how my student-athletes feel. There are also things I'm able to help with because I was in their position not too long ago. I don't have to think back 20 years to a time when the culture may have been a lot different."
The Lyons look to improve upon last season's fourth-place finish at the NEWMAC Championship. The core of many championship teams starts with their captains, and Roberts feels his men's squad has two fantastic ones in seniors Spencer Deans (Redding, Conn./Joel Barlow) and Alex Hosey (Danville, Pa./Wyoming Seminary).
"Spencer and Alex are two really good examples of what a scholar-athlete is," said Roberts. 'As an alum, that's one of things made me want to come back. These are not athletes – these are student-athletes. They're equally devoted to the classroom as they are to competing, an Alex and Spencer are very good examples of that. Alex is looking to go to med school, so he is slammed with classes but still comes to practice every day and works hard. Spencer is an economics major who has high hopes to go into a professional field when he leaves here, but still comes in every day and works hard. They will play very important leadership roles by making sure the team is where they need to be mentally. They'll ensure everyone comes in every day, trains hard, and is prepared to race."
Despite graduating a trio of all-conference swimmers, Roberts explains why he feels this year's group can not only meet, but exceed the accomplishments of last season's squad.
"We're looking at Christian Woods (Claremont, Calif./Webb School of California) to step up and win distance races for us. He had a real breakthrough year last year and is looking good so far this year. He has really high expectations of himself this year.
"Emerson Jenkins (Kansas City, Mo./Pembroke Hill School) is our returning MVP and a potential national qualifier. Hopefully, he and Sam Neill (Ludlow, Mass./Belchertown) are going to get a lot of points for us in the sprint events. Freshman Nick Fredette (Stoneham, Mass./Stoneham) looks great so far. He's a very versatile swimmer, and it's going to be my job to find his best events. We're hoping we can plug him into six or seven different events at a meet, and he'll have a chance of winning each of them. That should free up Emerson, Neill, Sam Jackson (Darien, Conn./Darien), and some other guys on the team to attack their events and then plug Nick in where we think we're going to need a win."
"In the diving events, Charlie Maier (Sudbury, Mass./Lincoln-Sudbury Regional) will be counted on in both the one-and-three meter board events."
When asked which student-athletes have been a pleasant surprise or exceeded expectations during preseason, Roberts said, "Richard Jenkins (Bow, N.H./Bow) has been our diamond in the rough. He took a year off from swimming last year, and he's become one of our top backstrokers. Devon Best (Brentwood, Tenn./Ravenwood) had a great year last year with only one semester of training because he went abroad. Richard and Devon are going to push each other and make each other better this year, which is really exciting. They're both very good, but they could be exceptional."
Other members of the men's team who will contribute this season include Trevor Deans (Redding, Conn./Joel Barlow), Alex Garneau (Glastonbury, Conn./Glastonbury), Griffin Hanley (Andover, Mass./North Andover), Cory Hedges (Glastonbury, Conn./Glastonbury), Nick Oliveri (Glastonbury, Conn./Glastonbury), Ben Oliveri (Glastonbury, Conn./Glastonbury), Guive Rosen (Cambridge, Mass./Cambridge Rindge & Latin School), Matt Sexton (Merrimack, N.H./Merrimack), Kyle Wilson (Cumberland, Maine/Greely), and Dominic Ziolek (Londonderry, N.H./Londonderry).
The Lyons placed fourth at the NEWMAC Championships in February. During the preseason, seniors Taryn Brosnan (Westford, Mass./Westford) and Alexandra Wilson (Suffield, Conn./Suffield) were named team captains.
"Taryn and Alexandra have really impressed me so far. They've really embraced their roles as captains of our team," said Roberts. "They've taken it upon themselves to check in on the underclassmen to see how things are going. They make sure the team is where it needs to be mentally in order to train properly every single day. Alex is the one of two female divers, so she has taken it upon herself to mentor Sarah Estrella (Pawtucket, R.I./Shea) as well as Ben Oliveri, who is one of the male freshman divers. Taryn is a very good swimmer and a school-record holder (200m butterfly), but she has also taken on additional responsibilities. I've heard several of the ladies on the team talk about how impressed they are with Taryn and how she's embraced her role as captain.
According to Roberts, this year's team will be anchored by a slew of underclassmen. "Adrianne Madden (Falmouth, Maine/Falmouth) is going to be one of our fastest sprinters, and she certainly has the potential to compete at the national level in March. She's a very versatile athlete. Cara Morris (Irvington, N.Y./Irvington) has stood out in practice as well, and she and Adrianne can compete in the butterfly and sprints. She's going to be fast, and I'm excited to see just how fast she can get."
He added, "Elle Van Cott (Delmar, N.Y./Bethlehem Central) is the school record holder in the backstroke, and I'm looking for her to improve after a big drop in time last season. Dana Auger (Milford, Mass./Milford) is one of the better swimmers on the women's side as well. Caroline Isaacs (San Jose, Calif./Archbishop Mitty) is our best distance swimmer who I can't say enough good things about. That's the core group that we're going to rely on to win races."
Roberts mentioned that both Morris and senior Sarah Miller (Madison, N.J./Madison) have been surprises during camp. "I've seen Sarah's times and what she has done in the past, and she's impressed me over and over again in practice. From an ability standpoint, for whatever reason I didn't realize how good of a swimmer she is. I think there are a lot of athletes on this team that have been overlooked the last few years. There were a lot of talented swimmers with big personalities that graduated last year, and I think Sarah was under the radar. She's looking to step into the spotlight this year and her attitude and work ethic have been both surprising and impressive.
Other student-athlete who Roberts expects to factor in this season are Catherine Army (Pomfret, Conn./Pomfret), Alisha Keezer (Biddeford Pool, Maine/Kennebunk), Nina Lanctot (Chatham, Mass.), Lauren Naruse (Maui, Hawaii/Seabury Hall), Kirstie Parkinson (Singapore, Singapore/Singapore American School), Callie Renfrew (Vacaville, Calif./The Webb Schools of California), Tierney Richardson (North Attleboro, Mass./North Attleboro), Abby Washington (Brunswick, Maine/Brunswick), and Kelsey White (Bath, Maine/Morse).
The Lyons open their season on Saturday, Oct. 22 at the Charlie Batterman Relays at MIT, which will serve as a tune-up for the team's first dual meet the following weekend against Roger Williams. The schedule is highlighted by home meets against NEWMAC rivals Coast Guard (Nov. 12), Babson (Jan. 21), and WPI (Jan. 28).
"We're training for one meet this season: the NEWMAC Championship," Roberts said. "The dual meets are great opportunities to gauge where we are and see what we can do, but at the end of the day, we're focused on our performance at the NEWMAC Championship.
"Outside of the pool, we want our teams to have our highest GPA in program history," Roberts added. "Historically across the board, swimmers are very smart athletes. I think it has to do with the fact that you can't be a good swimmer and not love hard work. I think that translates into the classroom. It became apparent to me during my interview process that swimmers are viewed as elite student-athletes on campus, and it's very important for us to maintain that reputation. As far as in the pool, I'm looking for smart, tough races. I want us to be the team that when a swimmer is neck-and-neck with their opponent 15 yards from the wall, finds a way to touch the wall before the other guy. That's really what we're looking for."