The search for the new head coach of Occidental’s swimming and diving team ended Sept. 17, with Haley Mitchell accepting the position for the upcoming season. Mitchell joined the Occidental athletics staff after a three-year tenure as an assistant coach of Davidson College’s swimming and diving team, in addition to previous coaching positions at Kenyon College and the United States Military Academy.
When the swim team received news that their former coach, Steve Webb, resigned July 17, two of the four captains — Annika Moen (senior) and Zander Granath (senior) — joined the search committee for a new coach. According to Moen, the committee fielded applications, conducted Skype interviews and invited candidates to campus, hoping to find a coach whose experience and abilities, both athletic and interpersonal, were a fit for Occidental’s mission.
“A week before school started, we had a meeting where all the members of the hiring committee came in and we said our top five candidates,” Moen said. “We were all on the same page about the top candidates who we narrowed down and ultimately invited to campus.”
According to Moen, Mitchell emerged in the lead in the pool of applicants due to her abilities as a former Division I swimmer, her experience with liberal arts college athletics and her enthusiasm.
“Haley has very positive energy which allowed her to be able to connect with everyone she met throughout the day [on-campus, meeting the team],” Occidental athletic director Shanda Ness said via email. “Secondly, she has a strong understanding of how important the student-athlete experience is — and that mind, body and spirit all play a role in allowing our student-athletes to reach their full potential in and out of the pool.”
Ness said she believes Mitchell makes an ideal addition to the athletic staff, by upholding the tenets of integrity and excellence outlined in the newly-crafted athletics department vision statement.
“I’m invested in each athlete’s success in the pool, but more importantly in class and in life,” Mitchell said via email. “I love coaching athletes who are students first and have passions outside of their sport.”
According to Ness, the search committee was impressed with Mitchell’s vision for the team, and her commitment to both athletic rigor and the liberal arts education.
“One of my goals for this season is to place top three in most of our relays at SCIACs,” Mitchell said. “Ultimately, I’d like to be a perennially recognizable program at DIII NCAAs.”
Getting faster and moving up the scoring ranks will be an upstream battle, according to Moen.
“Last year, the women’s team placed third, behind Pomona and Claremont-McKenna,” Moen said. “Eventually, I know Haley and the team would like to be competing directly with them and potentially beating them one day, a goal that will take a lot of work.”
According to Moen, the past six years have had a tumultuous undercurrent for the Occidental swim team, with a high turnover rate for coaches — as a result, dedication to Occidental was a high priority for the search committee.
“When looking for a coach, I was definitely interested in finding someone who was willing to commit to being at Occidental for a long period of time,” Moen said. “We want someone who is looking at Oxy as a long-term end goal and doesn’t just want to use the school as a stepping stone to somewhere else. Haley definitely showed that in her interview process.”
A member of the Occidental swim team since her first year, Moen said she has seen the team under the direction of multiple coaches, led it with her her co-captains through a period of uncertainty and helped manage the nuts-and-bolts aspects of the team’s functions. Additionally, Ness said that student search committee members showed initiative both during the search process and while the team lacked a coach.
“While candidates were on campus, all members of the team were invited to a session with each candidate, after which I provided an opportunity for them to provide feedback,” Ness said. “Providing our student-athletes an opportunity to be part of the search process is very important to our athletic department and also works to provide growth opportunities for the leaders in the program.”
According to Ness, that is the overarching goal of liberal arts athletics — for the coach of the team to be a mentor and a respected equal with the captains, and for the athletes to strive to win and to simultaneously pursue passions outside the pool.
“I can’t wait to get started with a team that already has a strong presence in the conference,” Mitchell said.