Among collegeswimming.com's list of Assistant Coaches of the Year, most honorees represent programs that have been consistently good (or great) for some time now. The biggest break from that mold is Dawn Kane, assistant coach at Duke University. It's hard to remember now, the way Duke competes, that there was a time that they lagged behind their ACC brethren the way Boston College does now. This is the type of coaching that really impresses me: stepping into a hopeless situation and injecting some hope. That is also why I feel that two coaches, Jesup Szatkowski and Jenn Verser, have been sorely overlooked.
I'm lumping the two together mostly because they have worked at the same place, Dartmouth College. From the outside, it's hard to tell who is better- I suspect that both are doing a lot. Szatkowski started in 2006, Verser followed in 2008. Both knew what they were signing up for- the worst team in the Ivy League, still recovering from the program's near cut in 2002.
In 2008, Dartmouth men's swimming finished an embarrassing 9th at the EISL Championships (the last one before Ivy Athletic Directors banished Navy). I say embarrassing because it wasn't a close 9th- they scored 309 points, nearly all coming from obligatory 9th place relay finishes (worth 40 pts in the EISL format). The women's team finished a more respectable last (8th) place that same year.
When you coach the worst team in a league, it is a monumental, thankless and long process to change that. But Jenn and Jesup set their mind to pulling Dartmouth up by it's bootstraps. While many of their competitors took a laid back approach to recruiting- content to bring in just enough to maintain their place in the league pecking order, these two beat the bushes across the country to recruit to the remote, New Hampshire wilderness. They made Dartmouth a place for serious swimming where it was once a place for drinking and skiiing (hopefully not at the same time).
By this past season, Dartmouth's women had moved up to 5th place at the Ivy Championship. Even more impressive was their men's rise from absolute rock bottom to 5th- the team's best finish since 1981. Their have been no secret tricks to their ascendancy. Instead, they've worked hard to improve the swimmers they had and recruit even better ones. The fate of a program that seemed forever destined to be a spectator at their own league meet has been completely changed. While Jenn remains for the 2012-2013 season, Jesup has moved on- and Dartmouth will be hard pressed to find someone with as much energy and ability to replace him.