The 2019-20 school year has been highly successful on the campus of WVU Tech in regard to athletic endeavors. From men’s soccer to volleyball and on through basketball season, Tech sports have electrified the Golden Bears faithful.
Although swimming doesn’t get the recognition as most other sports, you can now add that sport to the list of successful campaigns.
When the waters calmed at the 2020 NAIA Swimming and Diving National Championships at the Allan Jones Aquatic Center in Knoxville, Tenn., March 4-7, the Golden Bears left the pool with a number of impressive accomplishments.
School records fell. All-America honors were gained. Two Golden Bears were named Champions of Character and one earned the highest honor, Swimmer of the Meet.
Seniors Paulo Dias Ignacio Jr. and Manuel Laguna Gomez both earned All-America accolades, while Gomez and fellow senior Ana Carolina Loureiro were named NAIA Champions of Character.
Ignacio walked away as the Swimmer of the Meet, thanks in large part to winning the national championship in the 100-yard breaststroke. All together, Ignacio and Gomez combined for six top 10 finishes and also guided the 400-yard freestyle relay team to another top 10 finish.
“It was a bit of a surprise to me really,” first-year WVU Tech head swim coach William Hughes said.
“The bulk of the work was carried by the upperclassmen, but we had some freshmen that really stepped up and performed really well this season. I knew there was a lot of potential. My goal going in was not to mess it up for them. That was my biggest fear. I didn’t want to mess it up and make it a year they regretted for the rest of their life.”
While the season ended on a high note, it began with some serious uncertainty and with Hughes being named head swimming coach and aquatics director.
“This group of seniors have seen four (different) coaches over their college swimming careers. I knew going in that was going to be a challenge,” Hughes explained. “You had to think maybe the seniors were looking at it like, I am just going to finish out my senior year, graduate, get our degree and go home. Maybe they had given up on accomplishing the goals they initially had as freshmen. That was understandable.”
While Hughes was no stranger to swimming, being a former USA/YMCA swimming stroke and turn judge and referee, there were still some challenges.
“They could have looked at me as a coach that is a non-swimmer,” Hughes admitted. “That was a huge challenge for me, especially coming from basketball. It is a hard thing to do as an athlete, to buy in to somebody who didn’t do what you are doing. You have to earn their respect and it is a lot to overcome.”
Having been an assistant coach for the WVU Tech men’s basketball team under longtime head coach Bob Williams, Hughes was not a completely new face for the Golden Bears.
“I think they respected me as a person because they had seen me around campus,” Hughes said. “I had a rapport with the basketball team and some of those guys were still there. I think the word got around that I was all right and if they just worked with me, I would do anything I could to help them.”
Hughes met the non-swimmer issue head-on.
“The main thing I stressed to them was, I know I am not a swimmer, but I will be a student of the sport,” Hughes said. “I am not afraid to ask questions and I will look for any way possible to help them improve.”
The upfront and honest approach spoke volumes to his team, as did the coach’s trust in his senior leaders.
“I listened to the seniors. They had a tremendous amount of experience. Not only did they swim here, but they swam overseas in some big swim clubs,” Hughes said. “They have had good coaching. I wasn’t trying to outcoach anyone. I wanted to identify things that would make them faster and help them see it themselves.”
“Early in the season, they kinda challenged me. I was going through somewhat of a break-in period and they came to me and told me that the workouts were good, so far, but they needed a lot more,” Hughes went on to say. “So the next practice I brought it to them. I was waiting on them to tell me that. If they wanted more, that meant they were starting to buy in to the workouts.”
Now the goal for the Tech swimming program is to build on the successful foundation left by the senior class. However, recruiting has been a little bumpy with restrictions put in place in regard to the recent coronavirus pandemic.
“The coronavirus is a factor right now, but not as much of one that you might expect,” Hughes said. “In swimming, we really don’t necessarily have to see the swimmer in the pool. We can judge a lot off of the times they swim. That is where we pull the majority of our information in recruiting. I like to meet swimmers face-to-face, but most of them I will speak to on social media to get a sense of their character. Character is a big thing with me. I want kids to come here with good character. Where the virus has had an impact, which is still minimal, is the ability to have the recruit see the campus.”
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