Focus on team culture leads swim teams to national championship

Five years ago, Queens' swimming program didn't exist. This year, both the men's and women's swim teams became national champions. Connor Keith

Six years ago, Queens’ swimming program didn’t exist. This year, both the men’s and women’s swim teams won national championships.

During their freshman year in 2011, today’s senior swimmers laughed at head swim coach Jeff Dugdale when he predicted they would win a national championship.

Now, not only are they part of Queens’ class of 2015, but also the class of the field (or pool) in Division II swimming.

Queens’ swimming program is one of humble beginnings.  The 2014-15 season is only the fifth year the team has competed.  It existed before the Levine Center or even a pool was on campus.  But that didn’t stop Dugdale and his squad.

He has had a plan since the first year of competition to build Queens’ program into one that could contend on the national stage, even faced against a Drury squad that had won 10 consecutive national championships on the men’s side and back-to-back championships for the women leading up to this season.

“The swimmers in year one played a large role,” said Dugdale.

Their performance in the pool helped him recruit more dominant athletes for year two.  Those freshmen, the same ones that laughed in his face at the thought of winning a championship, became the senior leaders on this year’s championship team that won 19 events and broke 12 national records in Indianapolis.

“Stressful” is the only word Hannah Peiffer ’17 can use to describe that weekend in Indianapolis.

“There were so many people there to support us, we didn’t want to let them down,” she said.  “We wanted to make sure we secured our spot.”

McKenzie Stevens ’18 agrees that the event was stressful, but she was confident.

“There was such energy in our team,” she said.  “It was amazing swim after amazing swim.”

Although Dugdale was confident in his prediction, he knew from his experience as a recruiting coordinator at Auburn University that there were more pieces to the puzzle than simply swimming, speed and strength.  By helping to build an Auburn team that won 10 championships from 2002-07, he learned that he needed to build a specific culture within the program that the entire team needed to embrace.

“He’s always said to buy into the system,” said Evante Gibson ’15.  “There were days we questioned, but it worked.  We’re national champions. He created a flawless plan.”

Gibson said the system has evolved, and Ben Taylor ’16 agreed that it’s been amazing to see the progression.

“I’ve always trusted the system completely,” he said.

He admitted that during the Bluegrass Mountain Conference championship, he didn’t follow the plan completely, which yielded him a self-described “awful performance.”

By completely following the system laid out by Dugdale, Queens’ swimming teams have been labeled the “best all-time development of a swim program” by swimming Hall of Famer Sam Frease, who made a point of personally leaving a voicemail for Dugdale.

The list of celebrities calling Dugdale doesn’t stop there, though. Former Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx, now U.S. Secretary of Transportation, has invited Dugdale to the White House to be recognized for his successes.

But that’s not Dugdale’s ultimate goal for his swimming program.  Not the celebrity status.  Not going to the White House.  It could be argued that it’s not even to build a powerhouse program that wins national championships each year.  For the swimming program, he is still focused on building teams that he would describe as sustainable.

“That doesn’t mean winning a championship each year,” Dugdale said, “but a team that can fight for one… a team that can take a blow to the face and keep swimming.”

He insists that not only is he building stronger swimmers, and thus a stronger program, but also “developing leaders for life.”  Another person shares that same goal for this team: President Davies.  Dugdale said that Davies doesn’t simply want swimmers to have regional or national goals, but also wants to look internationally. This is why many of the swimmers, including Gibson, Taylor and Niclas Eriksson ’15, will be competing at the Olympic trials, in hopes of qualifying for a roster spot in Brazil.

And to think they were laughing at the thought of winning a national championship four years ago.

, , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Published by students of Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte, N.C. 28274.