PHOENIX, Arizona, November 12. On today's edition of the Morning Swim Show, host Tiffany Elias talks to her former Florida State head coach, Neil Harper. Now in his 14th season with the Seminoles, Harper discusses his strong freshman class and how the men have posted some strong times in heavy training.
Harper further talks about the benefits of training in an outdoor facility and the goal of having FSU place top-10 at the NCAA Championships. Be sure to visit SwimmingWorld.TV for more video interviews.
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Tiffany Elias: This is the Morning Swim Show for Monday, November 12, 2012. I am your host Tiffany Elias. Today's guest in the FINIS Monitor is very dear to me. Not only was he my college coach, but he is the Head Coach of the Florida State Seminoles. This year marks his 14th season leading the 'Noles and yet another season with a lot to look forward to joining us from Tallahassee Florida. Neil, glad to have you on the show.
Neil Harper: Good to see you guys.
Tiffany: Well first of all we have to comment on your background. The pool looks absolutely amazing behind you.
Neil: Well you know it is November and we are still in the 70's here. It is actually chilly for Tallahassee and just excited that the kids gets to do this in fresh air and beautiful sunshine so obviously it doesn't hurt to be a coach in this kind of weather too so just excited that this pool has been up to 4 years and there is a lot to look forward to for the future.
Tiffany: Yeah, I remember that facility and it sure makes training a joy out there. With all the storms that have been going on the East Coast have you guys experienced any up in the panhandle? Neil: We got some wind and a little bit of rain, but fortunately for us and the people that live here we were safe and we just pray for everybody else that was affected by the storm.
Tiffany: Right. Well, going into your 14th season, how is the year starting off so far?
Neil: Well we started off with a bang you know we had a huge freshman class and transfers coming in probably one of our best recruiting classes ever. We had some best recruiting classes ever. We had some great returns. We just lost you know one key guy on the men's side and a couple on the ladies side and we feel like we definitely replace them with the transfers and freshman so really excited and we have been swimming fast. We would probably train harder than ever, definitely lifted heavy than we ever have, but for some reason the guys have weathered the storm and freshmen have stepped up and have recorded some good times in you know some heavy training in dual meets so I am excited with the way they are racing and I am looking forward to you know obviously you know our meet is coming up.
Tiffany: The program is really growing and I want to talk about that first here, and let's especially dive into the men's side because like you said they seem to really be making a mark for FSU right now. Last year they had a stronger year than past at NCAA's with a top 20 performance and now coming back this year you have got the ACC swimmer of the year. You have one of the fastest sprinters in the country currently Mark Weber in the 50 freestyle so what do you attribute to the growth of your men's team?
Neil: Well I think they just realized that things can get done here. I think that you know commitments to training hard. I think sometimes you know our sprint program in the past those guys have wanted to swim fast at the end of the week and have kind of maybe not commited themselves as much as they should in the weight room and that filters down and I think this year we surprised ourselves by basically putting all our eggs in one basket and saying, “Hey, we are going to train all the way through to the conference meet.” We swam real well. We started off the meet. With an ACC record in the 200 free and we ended the meet you know winning the 400 free and both of those relays made a chance to NCAAs easily and all four of those guys could come back. The great thing is that you know we could have maybe put our 5th and 6th swimmer on that relay to get them there, but we really were chasing the ACC records and those guys all came back and they set the tone for this year. We got 4 or 5 freshmen that came in that are like 20 points out of high school that want to be part of that and then obviously every one in between that swims you know the 100 and 200's and we always had a great distance you know tradition here and so you know from top to bottom you know as high as it goes in the mile, as low as it goes in the 50 the guys are determined and the girls you know chasing them and don't want to be out done by them.
Tiffany: So do you think that because the guys are starting to see a little bit more success in the pool that it is making your recruiting process a lot easier?
Neil: I think so. I think you know success obviously helps with recruiting. I think that you know when recruits out there, when high school juniors and seniors and even sophomores now start to see what we are able to do. You know, you look at our facilities, you look at the experience. You know the fact that we have produced NCAA champions. We have produced Olympic medalists. We continue to you know have Olympians every 4 years. A lot of people are realizing you know Florida State is a great part of the country. It is a great academic institution. A lot of that programs rank top 10, top 5 academically and people are finding that you know FSU could be the place for them, so we got a lot of people that want to come visit and now we think sort of filter through and pick and choose who we want to recruit, who we want to bring in and we have ended up you know last couple of years have had some great recruiting classes.
Tiffany: Right and that pool sure can't hurt.
Neil: Yeah, it doesn't, you know, this pool I mean you know I have been for this and every time I managed to get in there and swim when I get in you know it is 9 feet deep. The lanes are you know 8 feet wide. It is like at the Olympic trials only you are outside in the sun. So it is a beautiful setting. The kids love to come swim here, you know the girls are training in bikinis and they are swimming fast. You know the only problem is when we are doing test sets, the girls have to quickly go put a one piece on because they are diving in and swimming fast.
Neil: You know we are all tanned and we are swimming fast and you know this team is just set on a mission if you had to do better than we ever have.
Tiffany: Tan and happy and swimming fast. You can't really beat that.
Neil: No, you know, it is a great thing where you know when the weather — the other thing is the health. Obviously when the pool was being built, we moved inside to our rec center and that is a nice 16-lane indoor pool and obviously you know we want a couple of AC Championships in there, but when we moved outside you know our health issues went down 80%. So you know our kids weren't breathing recycled air, chlorinated air, and we are so much being healthier being outside so it has benefited throughout and I think a lot of people that swim in indoor pools and have breathing problems. They look at a place like Florida State where hey, they can come here and not worry about being sick and being restricted.
Tiffany: Well and I think that is a big thing is that Florida State can really offer these great opportunities and great training facilities and things like that to really maximize the athlete's potential. So now we follow the rankings pretty closely over here. We like to look at the college coaches association rankings and especially on the guy's side, they were 15th last week, dropped a few spots this week. Is that on your guy's radar at all? Do those guys — are they motivated by those polls?
Neil: Oh, I think so. I think that you know when we swim a team that is either ranked ahead of us or ranked below us, we were fully aware of that and a lot of it is just match ups. A lot of it is for us you know our goal is to, after cracking the sweet 16 last year. Our goal is you know to win ACC's and to be top 10 this year so you know we can't necessarily worry about a dual meet last week or next week, we have to keep training hard and we have to get you know 12, 13, 14 guys to the NCAA meet and that is what we are shooting for. So you know if someone comes you know if we are ranked 15th and someone is unranked we go up to them and they are ready for us, we just got to give them that shot, and I think that is what we are trying to do is that our guys are lifting hard. They are training hard and I am not giving them anything. I mean don't you know I expect the best and I don't expect them to get beat by anyone that is slower than them so if people want to give us their best shot, we are up for it and you know the cards fall where they may, so our divers have done awesome and we have always relied on them before but you know the ACC is probably the best diving conference in the country and so you know when you go against Duke, when you go againstVirginia Tech you know if you are the divers that are doing what they should be doing going up the platform a couple of times a week and our guys are like putting in you know 8,000, 9,000 a practice and a few kids are going to be worn out. Our divers are going to be beat up so we are not expecting them to perform well and you know dive through the roof and you know you just take it for what it is, and we know we are going to be there at the end of the year.
Tiffany: Well on that note, looking ahead at your schedule line up. You have already completed a lot of your dual meets. And a few days here you go up against the Gators. This year it is in Tallahassee, thankfully, but what are your – you mentioned earlier that you are straining all the way through to the NCAA's and conference is this just going to be another meet against the Gators or are you doing anything special this year to expect that rivalry coming up?
Neil: Well I think you know there isn't just another meet against the Gators. I think you know these kids grew up in the State of Florida High Schools, High School State meet, clubs,YMCA's and they go against each other. They were teammates. It is a huge rivalry. It will be. It is in every sport and you know swimming, you know we are not going to back down from it. You know we have got some kids that can win some events. They have got some kids that can win some events and it is up here so you know our kids love swimming outdoors in our pool. It is our advantage and this is a fast pool I expect that to be a fast meet. I know they are training hard. I know we are training hard, where both programs are training for the end of the year and so every time that you know they step up with 4 guys, 4 girls and everybody, we are going to put core best up too and I fully expect us to compete in every race and give them a hell of a meet, so you know I am really not worried about you know how it is going to end up. I know that you know I have got our kids are going to step up with bride and give it a best shot and if we swim faster than them and out dive them then we will win the meet.
Tiffany: Well we look forward to rivalries all over the country so that is one of the many that we are looking forward to follow over here at Swimming World. So moving on, we talked about your men's team, how's the outlook on the ladies side?
Neil: Well the women's team is very deep, very competitive and we have done very well recruiting over the last couple of years and continue to do well now so I am very excited about the future. We have some great heaters, but really the size and quality and quantity is in our younger years, our freshman class, our sophomore class. You know we had 5 go to NCAAs last year and we had 2 or three just missed. I think with the new qualification standards and the new limits, I think that we could easily see 10, 12 this year for ladies and definitely a couple of relays as well so, we are building forward you know the high school kids out there know that. They see that and you know we have got huge momentum so you know our new coaching staff has just really come in and energized everything. They've gotten out and made in-home visits. We are all for the role and I will play off I guess to the couple of weeks here so we are looking forward to that because the kids were adding, we are being selected, we are not looking to add 10 to 12 kids. We are looking at 5 or 6 that just saw the perfect piece of the puzzle to give us an ACC championship team and to be a top 10 NCAA team so that's coming in together real well and we are having fun doing it.
Tiffany: Good, well, on that note if you're a coaching staff you do have some new editions this year. Now you and Andy Robins who heads the sprinting portion of the squad have been around for years. Pat Jeffrey is the diving coach and 2 new additions this year, why don't you tell us a little bit about them?
Neil: Well Lauren came from up in Pennsylvania. She was a Head Coach. I don't think you can actually beat that in terms of experience. She is really well-known in that area and she has come down and hit the ground running here. She has really hit clubs around here, high schools, and has done a great job you know organizing visits. She had already done a couple of in-home visits and has been very successful so you know her experience as being a head coach you know you just have that momentum and you have the initiative that you know maybe it as the first year assistant coach you wouldn't have — you would be tentative and so she has been a great you know right hand person for me when if I go out of town and making a home visit, she would run the group that we have. Therefore if I stay she might make an in-home visit, you know I know I am confident in what she is doing and it has already paid off so she has been awesome and then obviously Kirk. Kirk came from Iowa. He was in Iowa for 6 years. Did an awesome job with their recruiting and really you know help put that program on the map and movements of the top 20, but I do take credit because you know he spent 2 years here as a graduate assistant and really helped our program. That is you know we won an ACC title back then too and again, he has been on in-home visits and just really reenergized and connected with club coaches around so when you know that Lauren and Kirk are here it just really helps out and sort of solidifies that program and just you know there are a lot of programs out there looking and saying, “Hey, that is a complete staff. It is a great staff and it is a great place to send our high school and club kids to really go on to an excellent program.”
Tiffany: Well Neil there is a really positive future ahead at Florida State. I am proud to have been a part of it and we are all really excited to see how you guys do this year. Best of luck and we will see you out at NCAA's.
Neil: All right, I will definitely see you guys. Thanks so much for the interview and good luck to everyone out there too.
Tiffany: Great, thanks Neil.
Tiffany: That is Neil Harper in the FINIS Monitor. That will conclude today's Morning Swim Show. Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with all the latest news. I am your host Tiffany Elias. Thanks for watching.
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