Swim coach departs in July, team begins season with search for new coach

Occidental College students at swim practice at the Taylor Pool at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. Nanuka Jorjadze/The Occidental

Occidental’s swim team received a mass email informing them that their head coach, Steve Webb, had resigned from his position at Occidental July 17. Webb’s decision to pursue a job at Rhodes College in Tennessee left the team without a coach as preseason training began this year, according to captain Annika Moen (senior). In the midst of the transition, the swim captains took charge by leading practices, ordering team gear and joining the search for a replacement coach. Athletic director Shanda Ness said the search for a swim coach will be coming to a close.

Due to NCAA regulation, the team is not allowed to interact with their coach until the start of the official season in late September, so the captains continue to lead preseason practice. According to captain Ana Bucy (senior), captains now have to play a much larger role in the management and organization of the team, beyond just leading practices.

“Changing to a captain is already more of a managerial position. You do a lot more organizing things,” Bucy said. “However, because we don’t have a coach in general, it’s been a lot more managerial in the way we’re working with Shanda, trying to make sure we’re getting all of our gear ordered and figuring out whether we put down a deposit for a certain swim meet or not.”

Ness, who started at Occidental last spring, has been particularly engaged with the swim team during this uncertain time, according to Bucy. Ness, Moen, captain Zander Granath (senior) and five other members of the aquatic staff make up the search committee for the new swim coach.

“We are in the final stages of the search. I anticipate the new coach being here very close to the start of the official practice start date,” Ness said via email.

Ness also said the captains did an good job in taking initiative this fall.

“The captains have shown excellent leadership since Coach Webb’s departure which will prove to be very helpful as the new coach arrives,” Ness said via email.

According to Moen, the final two candidates visited last week and spent the day interacting with the swim team and members of Occidental’s athletic faculty. After meeting with the potential coaches, Bucy said the team was able to give their feedback to their captains on the search committee. Moen and Granath have been the point people for communicating the desires of the swim team to the other members of the search committee.

“Zander and I have done various things such as creating a team survey, where people could give feedback about what they liked about the coaching staff last year, and other things that they are looking for,” Moen said. “We’ve also just been having a lot of in-person conversations with the team and then communicating those to the athletic director.”

According to Moen, the absence of a coach has impacted the recruitment process for next year, which usually starts in September. Ordinarily, swim prospects contact the head coach if they are interested in a recruiting trip. This year, because there is no head coach, they have to contact the admissions office instead. However, Bucy said these circumstances are not deterring potential candidates.

“Our program has improved significantly in the past three years,” Bucy said. “People want to swim here, so they’re actually emailing the admissions office.”

Part of the captains’ role this year has been helping the first years adjust to the new environment. According to Moen, the first-year swimmers — like the returners — were unaware that there would be new coaches coming to Occidental this year. However, Samuel Walker (first year) said that the transition on to the swim team has been as smooth as he anticipated.

“I think that the upperclassmen, for not having a head coach, and it being such a surprise, are really prepared,” Walker said. “They’re doing a great job of making us feel welcomed and integrated into the team. I already feel like the team climate is good, even without a coach.”

Walker said the leadership and support the team has provided has been preferable to some of his previous experiences on swim teams.

“I would rather take no head coach and a great group of swimmers to help me train than a really bad head coach, which is what I’ve had in the past,” Walker said.

According to Bucy, many of the swimmers are feeling optimistic about the months to come, despite the season’s tumultuous beginning.

“I feel like we are doing a much better job already of being a team, and being a unit and supporting each other,” said Bucy. “Especially with all of the pressures of this whole fiasco happening around us. I think a lot of people are reconnecting with the reason why they swim.”