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Merch Madness
Courtesy: JMUSports.com
Q&A With Swimming and Diving Coach Samantha Smith
Courtesy:JMUSports.com Release:10/09/2012
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In 2011-12, the James Madison swimming and diving team won the Colonial Athletic Association Championship. It was the sixth CAA championship in program history and the first since 2001. The Dukes won eight events, including five individual titles, and set two CAA records in the process. Head coach Samantha Smith recently sat down with us to discuss her expectations and goals for the 2012-13 season. 

After winning the CAA Championship last year, how would you assess the level of excitement heading into this season?
SS: It’s definitely a new year for us. I think as soon as you win, people treat you a little bit different. They prepare for you a little bit different. Teams and coaches probably view you a little bit different. So we are trying to be aware of that, but also try to keep the focus on this campus, on our team and in our pool. We want to not let too much of any outside hype or any targets on our backs force us to do anything we wouldn’t normally do in preparation. Our philosophy has always been to take care of what we can take care of and focus on what’s happening here. The people that matter are the people in purple. We are taking things one day at a time and trying to have fun. 

What are your goals and expectations for the 2012-13 season?
SS: The expectations, they change as you go year-to-year in what the result should be, but the expectation itself isn’t different. What I mean is, the expectation every year is to be a better team in March then we were in August. That won’t change. In order to accomplish this we won’t focus on last year. Instead we will focus on moving forward.

You graduated a talented senior class last season, how to anticipate compensating for their loss?
SS: When anyone inquires about graduation, the common question is ‘how do you fill their shoes?’ For all intents and purposes, you don’t. You’ve had the luxury of developing those athletes over several years. We graduated five great swimmers and two great divers, and I wouldn’t anticipate any 17 or 18-year-old woman to come in here and be able to act, compete, train and lead at the level of the people that we graduated. Who would? Those women have 4 years of invaluable experience to help them grow. There is a huge maturation process that goes with swimming and diving over four years as a Division I athlete. We are not looking to fill our graduate’s shoes, per se; I don’t think any freshman is going to be Samm [Holland], Eva [Hannesdottir], Bruce [Lauren Broussard], Chelsea [Savage], MeHe [Melissa Helock], Cata [Mendieta] or [Nicole] Jotso. Our objective is to take our current upperclassmen and help them fill in the leadership roles and then take our new young talent and teach them the JMU way. Hopefully, when you do all of that, things will gel. 

Is there anyone on the team you are expecting to have a breakout year?
SS: I wish I was able to forecast like that! I don’t know. I think the breakout year will be having a senior class of four do a really good job as four individual athletes and one united class. We need them to not only swim fast and dive really well, but we need them to be the forefront of our program. We need those three swimmers and one diver to be one unit. Ultimately, if we are going to be great we need the breakout to be in leadership and just meeting day-to-day expectations. 

You have 13 newcomers in your freshman class, what are your expectations from that class?
SS: A lot of confusion! When you have that many people joining a team, you also have that many personalities that need to fit together and develop team chemistry. When our current crop of juniors got here, they were a group of four. We had to mesh together four individuals with four different backgrounds and four different training histories. That’s hard, but it is not so hard when you compare it to 13 people. That’s 13 different training plans. 13 people learning to share a dorm room. It is13 athletes learning how to handle lifting, yoga, sports medicine and the academic rigors of JMU. It’s a lot to handle while also swimming or diving on a collegiate level. There are bound to be some bumps. So, my expectation is that they will learn the ‘JMU way’. I don’t doubt they will succeed in this because the JMU way is extremely contagious and that’s ultimately why they decided to come here. I’m excited to see what happens, though. 

Your team has had a lot of success in relays over the last few seasons, do you expect that to continue this year?
SS: I think it hard to do a great job at a conference championship meet, or a dual meet, for that matter, if your relays aren’t sound. I expect that our relays will continue to grow. We have some great athletes returning with awesome relay experience from last year. I’m really excited to see those relays develop with that experience. It can be very hard to swim relays fast and do it in a very poised and focused manner, but I think we have some key pieces in place to help us do that. 

How has having some swimmers have national and international success helped your program?
SS: It was just wild spring and summer for JMU Swimming and Diving! When you have athletes qualify for the Olympics and the Olympic Trials it elevates everything and everyone. When you’re swimming or training with people at that level, you aspire to reach that level. You know {senior diver] Kimberly Helfrich made the NCAA championships two years ago and now all of our divers have the opportunity to dive with someone with NCAA experience. All of our swimmers have an opportunity to train with someone who has met the Olympic Trial standard. It’s pretty amazing and it’s only going to elevate us as a team. 

How do you expect your schedule to help you guys prepare to defend your championship?
SS: Our schedule is difficult because we don’t have a lot of home meets. We want to challenge ourselves and in order to challenge ourselves in dual meet competition we have to get on the road. Swimming and diving against great teams like West Virginia, Villanova and Rutgers is important. When you race fast people and you get to the end of the year, there is no shock when you get into the pool. You’ve already seen the fast swimmers and you can handle that situation. The same goes for our diving. When they are competing against the best, they can learn how to dive in stressful situation like our championship meet. We will never put a huge emphasis on the win-loss column. The emphasis throughout the year is in learning a strategy and approach, then executing fearlessly. 

Is there any one meet you are most looking forward to?
SS: The CAA Pod meet is always fun because it’s the only chance we get to compete against the CAA outside of the conference championships. It’s fun because it is a two-day format and it is an opportunity to mix it up with some CAA competition and to measure where we are. Rutgers was a great meet for us last year. We really went back-and-forth with them. I’m excited that they continue to be on our schedule. West Virginia and Villanova is going to be a real challenge for us. I am just ready for an unforgettable year. We are going to attempt to build off a great history!

 

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