Katie Robinson Serving as Inspiration For Women Coaches; Continuing Momentum at Northwestern

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Katie Robinson with the Northwestern team at the 2019 Big Ten Championships. Photo Courtesy: Walt Middleton Photography 2019

When Katie Robinson was named as the head coach for Northwestern Swimming and Diving this spring, there was a sense of relief she saw on the faces of the swimmers. Robinson had been upgraded from the associate head coach role that she held the last two years, as the Wildcats saw tremendous improvements during her short tenure in Evanston.

After such a successful season where the Wildcats qualified seven women and four men to the NCAAs in 2020, they were hoping to keep the momentum going into the national championships. Unfortunately, COVID-19 had forced the championships to be cancelled, and the athletes had to head home to try and stop the virus from spreading. They were unable to train, unable to go to class, and unable to live a normal college life.

Two months later, their head coach Jeremy Kipp took the open coaching job at the University of Southern California, leaving the Wildcats without a head coach.

“There was so much uncertainty because they were in quarantine all around the world, then their coach left and they didn’t know who their coach was going to be, much less what the next year was going to look like,” Katie Robinson told Swimming World. “There was just so much uncertainty and there was a lot of fear in the unknown.”

After a month long coaching search, Katie Robinson had been hired as the new head coach of the men’s and women’s programs – giving Northwestern a sense of closure in what had been a wild off-season.

“I think everyone was just excited,” Robinson said. “Excited to know. Excited it was me. And excited that they knew already. It was finally an answer and it was like ‘now we know Katie is going to be our coach – we already know her and like her.’ So I think there was a sense of honesty and a sense of relief and a sense of calm that it was going to be ok.”

The Katie Robinson Era

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Katie Robinson. Photo Courtesy: Northwestern Athletics

With Robinson taking over as head coach after two years already with the program, she is able to keep Northwestern’s momentum rolling.

“That was something that was really important for me and for the team. They didn’t want to see a whole lot of change with the coaches,” Robinson said. “I knew if I got this spot, it was my role to keep the gang together as much as I could. I’m really excited.”

In just a short time at Northwestern, Robinson helped build a new culture, and it started with cultivating relays. And because of this, the Northwestern women were able to qualify four relays to the championships – the first time in a long time they were able to do that.

The next step was to build a foundation in recruiting, and the Wildcats did that with five total freshmen qualifying for NCAAs on the men’s and women’s sides.

“I think this is just the beginning. That’s the phrase I keep saying over and over,” Robinson said. “It’s just the beginning for our team, we just started getting going this past year.

“We have an awesome group of incomers that are going to continue to add to the strength of our program and they are already really tight with our swimmers. We have been doing some calls and team meetings that they have been a part of. It’s cool. They’re excited. They’re hungry. There’s just a lot of positive momentum on our side right now.”

Role Model

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Photo Courtesy: Northwestern Athletics

Katie Robinson is just the second female head coach of both men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs in the power five Division I conferences. It is a role she takes with great pride, but also great responsibility, and she hopes to use her platform to inspire other women in the sport.

“I want to see the start of the change,” Robinson said. “Courtney (Shealy Hart) at Georgia Tech has been doing this for a while now and I’m kind of the first follower if you want to be specific. I think that can be the start of real change. So I’m hoping that it gives confidence to other athletic directors out there to be a really popular thing.

“Right now I feel like I’m representing a great population of women coaches and I want to do right by them. I want to do right by Northwestern because I love this place. There’s just so many great responsibilities that I feel.

“I was told a few years back that it is not enough to just have women in roles. We have to have women in roles doing a kick-butt job!”

Women in higher coaching roles is still not a common sight on pool decks. And Robinson hopes that she can help be a part of that change – to give women more coaching opportunities.

“I have a cohort of great women coaches around the country,” she said. “And that is something I’ve been really passionate about connecting with other women coaches and networking them because when you are the only woman it can be lonely.

“In coaching you have so many ups and downs and I want to be there for other women through their accomplishments and help them out. There’s a lot of women that would do the same for me.

“I always say, ‘life is a team sport’ and I definitely did not get here alone, I know that. I have so many people to thank and I’m just happy to give that back.”

As Katie Robinson starts her first official year as head coach at Northwestern, she is leading a vastly improved team. On the men’s side, all four of the men swimmers that qualified for NCAAs were either freshmen or sophomores. On the women’s side, only one of the seven qualifiers was a senior as the team is returning potential point scorer Hannah Brunzell along with national champion favorite Calypso Sheridan.

“We’ve got a team that is hungry for what is in store. Especially because we didn’t get to swim at NCAAs – we’ve got a hunger now inside of us and something to prove and that chip on our shoulder like ‘don’t count us out’ and I think that is something I love to see in swimmers.”

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