By Elle Meinholz, Swimming World intern
Denison University's men's and women's swim programs recently put together sensational efforts at the NCAA Division III Championships. Its men's team took home second place honors after a two-year stint on top, while the women placed third in Shenandoah, Texas.
With those types of efforts, and the bulk of its history as a title contender every year, it is safe to say that Denison University has one of the most successful programs in Division III swimming history. What makes Denison head coach Gregg Parini's program so successful? With a brand new facility, a talented group of kids, and passionate coaching, Parini has all of the right tools to achieve greatness.
When it comes down to it, to have success you have to have the talent. In order for the team to win, the swimmers have to win their races. Winning takes a multitude of things, but talent first and foremost.
“You've got to have talented kids around you. That's the bottom line, you've got to have kids who are improving, who can score points at your championship meet” said Parini about what makes a successful team. “Talent has a lot to do with it, but you also have to provide these kids with a culture and an environment in which they can continue to grow and develop.”
Fortunately for Parini, he has the right environment for success too. Denison opened its new pool at the beginning of the school year in September. Although both teams still had success in the old pool, air quality issues, water quality issues, and space issues meant that it was time for an upgrade.
“Our roster numbers increased and the university felt that it was in the school's best interest financially in the long term and the team's best interest and the community's best interest to invest in a new facility” said Parini. “It's a beautiful facility that's constructed very nicely, and we've got a lot more space than we had in the old pool. I certainly think it's going to improve the quality of the swimming experience here, and I think it's a much more user friendly facility.”
The new facility will certainly influence recruiting future talent for the program. Parini still thinks it is too soon to tell its impact on recruiting, but the “Wow-factor” of the beautiful facility certainly isn't hurting them.
“How much it will help us in the long run? I think that is yet to be determined, but I think initially the response we are getting is really favorable.”
Many coaches have their men's and women's programs train together, while other coaches see more value in swimming separately. Parini's practices are in perfect balance, with half of the practices being combined and the other half separate.
“The one thing I am always sensitive to is that both men's and women's teams are always in a different place in terms of their needs, and I think there are times when both teams have to be separate just in terms of forging the right kind of culture and providing the kids with an environment where those team needs can be met.”
Parini sees combined practices as valuable for both teams. He is also very aware of the problems that can occur with too much overlap, “If you've got them always combined, the risk you run is that you are going to be shutting out the other gender sometimes if you're trying to address an issue.”
Both the men's and women's team this year won the NCAC conference championships for the fifth year in a row. Even though the teams arrived at the same result, each team had their own challenges and obstacles to overcome throughout the season.
“We performed very well when we got there, but it was two very unique processes to each team. Each team is always on its own path, and I think as coaches we've got to be tuned in to those kinds of things. I thought both teams performed at a very high level at our conference championships.”
With the men's and women's five-year-running conference championship streak and the men's two-year run as the national champions prior to this March, one would think that there is a lot of pressure to repeat and keep those type of streaks alive, but with a level-head, Parini and his team focus on one season at a time.
“I keep reminding people, my swimmers, and myself that I can only count as high as one. Each year presents new and unique challenges that are signature moments for the team. And I think we can't take our cues from the past, but we have to keep looking forward” said Parini.
In his 26 years at Denison University Parini has accomplished three national titles, 13 national runner-up finishes, 51 consecutive top 10 national finishes, and 10 NCAC conference championships. As happy as Parini is with the success of his team, his true happiness comes from doing a job he loves.
“I really believe this is more than a job, it's a vocation for me. I think I am doing what I am supposed to be doing with my life and that is working with young people” Parini said.
Looking forward, what can the swimming world expect from Parini and his team? Parini challenges himself to improve as a coach and to ultimately help each individual swimmer improve because of it.
“The challenge is always can I become a better coach. Can I tune in to my athletes better? Can I find a better way to empower them to their goals and provide them with the environment and the resources to make those goals happen? I look at every year as a unique opportunity to help young people reach their goals and present to them the possibilities.”