Mid-Major Mojo; A Swimming World Conversation With Towson’s Pat Mead

Feature by Michael J. Stott

Pat Mead has filled his Towson roster with far more than Mid-Atlantic swimmers and in the process has created a Tiger team that is burning bright.

Q: Swimming World
How did your background as a Jersey Wahoo mold your coaching philosophy?

A: Coach Pat Mead:
The sky's the limit! That was our T-shirt slogan my senior year at Wahoos when the pool roof collapsed in March. Within two-to-three weeks walls were up, the pool was filled and we were practicing with no roof at 4:45 a.m. in April. Through many Wahoo experiences I learned that anything is possible with hard work and a positive attitude.

What was it about summer league that drew you to coaching?
Helping people accomplish something they thought wasn't possible is very fulfilling. I began coaching during my junior year in college. The team was in the lowest division and hadn't won a meet in years. During my interview, I was told the team had to show major improvement or be kicked out of the league. No pressure, right? We improved tremendously and it was such an enjoyable experience that I continued on the coaching career path.

How did you hit upon “Never Quit” as a core value?
My mother instilled it in me at a young age. Whether it was school, swimming or anything, she always taught us that anything worthwhile is never easy.

How has the Alumni Challenge galvanized Towson Swimming?
Our Alumni are among the best in the country. Towson and the City of Baltimore are great places to live and work. Many alumni find jobs in the Baltimore area so they are very active in Towson events. The Alumni Challenge, a university fundraising effort, is just one example of how connected they are to the University and our team. Giving back to Towson and the community is a core value of our program.

How important are alumni to college swimming these days?
Priceless. It's not just the donations to the team but it's the relationships. Today, career networking is essential in finding employment and the alumni involvement with our athletic department and team is remarkable. The friendships are truly life-long.

Your swimmers are involved in community service program called SEED?
The Seed School of Maryland is one of our community outreach initiatives and one of my favorites because our team gains just as much from the experience as the Seed students. Having the opportunity to motivate young, underprivileged students from diverse backgrounds is invaluable. Our team comes away from the experience with a much higher appreciation for all the daily opportunities they are given.

To be successful is summer training mandatory in college swimming?
Yes, a great long course season equals an incredible short course season. The most successful age-group programs in the country don't train and compete for six months and then stop so why should college be any different? In our sport it is unrealistic to only train for six months and expect to see large time improvements. In addition, swimming long course is different and a lot of fun.

Do you require it?
I can't require it, but I highly encourage it. This summer we had a group stay and train at Towson. More importantly, we competed in five meets. Competing is essential in the summer so the athletes know if their training is having a positive impact. Our goal is for our athletes to swim all four years in college. If they continue to improve each year the chance of dropping out is far less. So, summer training/competing is key to accomplishing that goal.

What does a Meredith Budner bring to a program?
Let's face it, I wouldn't be interviewed by you had I not had the opportunity to coach her. Hopefully, Meredith's success and that of our team motivates other coaches and swimmers across the country to consider Towson University. The teammates who encouraged and challenged Meredith daily were integral to her success.

What will it take for the Towson men to match the women's achievements?
Our men are making strides every year. The lack of scholarships for our men is a hindrance so we have focused our recruiting efforts on men who can earn academic scholarships. Our belief is that fast swimmers are also bright students. Our goal is for both teams to be in contention for championships and to be represented at NCAA's in the coming years.

How do you offer a major college aquatic experience in a mid-major environment?
The coaching staff works long hours and is committed to our student athletes. The NCAA meet is held every year in an eight-lane 25-yard pool. We have one with great lighting, outstanding air quality and a rule nobody can pee in the pool. Ultimately, it comes down to the coaches and athletes setting goals and then executing a plan to achieve them.

Who is an ideal candidate for Towson swimming?
We look for three core qualities. Anyone who has ever had that first phone call with me hears the same message.
1. Academics are a priority. We expect everyone to earn a 3.4 G.P.A or higher.
2. Athletically, we look for people who are overachievers, love the sport of swimming and believe they still have fast swimming left.
3. We want a person whose priorities are school and swimming and knows how to be socially responsible.

What are the best questions you can ask a Towson recruit?
In one word describe yourself. Four years from now what do you see yourself doing?
What is your favorite event and why?

How can social pressures get in the way of college swimming?
Let's be frank. Swimming is very demanding. The importance of proper sleep, nutrition and hydration are critical to the development of any athlete, let alone a swimmer. An athlete who is not socially responsible is unlikely to reach this/her potential. They might still be the fastest on their team or in their conference but we always ask ourselves, “Did we reach our potential?”

How do the Meads balance work (swim coach, dive coach, Tigerfish Aquatics) and family life?
I am blessed with a wonderful wife and four great kids. When you are passionate about what you do it is not a job or a sacrifice, it's just your life. We have had the opportunity to raise our children and coach our teams without regrets. Our children swim and dive a little bit, but we make time for vacations and other sports too. We all help each other and truly appreciate the life we live.

How have you and Maureen grown the Tigerfish program from 20 to 300 families?
Maureen is the program director and has done a tremendous job of growing it. Tigerfish primarily serves kids 14 and under who want to swim but are involved in other activities. When our swimmers advance to a more competitive level we send them off to other local teams for a far greater competitive experience. My goal is to have kids swim at the collegiate level. Therefore, our program encourages them to be involved in a number of sports, as Meredith was growing up. Collegiate swimming is such a positive experience at any division level that we don't want them to burn out early.

How They Train: Meredith Budner

Austin, Texas, March 19, 2009 provided a “Hello World” moment for Towson sophomore Meredith Budner. While not quite Ledecky-like Budner's sudden 13th place (16:06.82) showing in the 1,650 was but prelude to sixth (16.01.36) and then second place (15:44.26) finishes the following two years. While those results may have astounded her competitors those in Metro Washington, D.C. were not surprised in the slightest.

A summer league swimmer who strayed into soccer and equestrian pursuits Budner migrated into competitive swimming at age 13, first with Aqua Hoyas, then with Rockville Montgomery Swim Club and the Eagles Swim Team before teaming with Bob Bowman at NBAC in the spring and summer following her senior year at Towson High.

“We recruited Meredith to Towson because of her 400 IM, 500 free and 200 IM abilities,” says Towson coach Pat Mead. “Our program is very much IM- based so her background and events fit well into our program philosophy. After two weeks at the end of practice her freshman year she went a 2:08 lifetime best in the 200 fly. I had a pretty good idea right then she was special. “One key to Meredith's success was the strength of her recruiting class. It was large and very talented. Brooke Golden, Erica Hall, Robin Glaser and Kayla Zeller and others made for a great training group.

“Meredith's first collegiate competition was remarkable. She won the 1000 free and swam lifetime best swims in everything. She blazed through her next four years winning every conference championship she entered. How? She was very goal-oriented and hated to lose. On game day she rarely got intimidated and was always willing to push herself to a high threshold of pain,” says Mead.

“In practice Meredith often appeared to be laid back and sometimes gave the appearance that she didn't care or didn't want to work hard. The key was to convince her she wanted to race in practice. Sometimes I let her pick which set to do and it always resulted in a great workout. She loved the dual meets and thoroughly enjoyed winning the multiple awards she earned over the years. Very often, the medals and awards served as a motivator to do the work on a daily basis.”

Budner faced challenges in the weight room and during dryland, says Mead, where she strained to maintain her strength ratios. “Each year we targeted one or two training areas for improvement. Sophomore year it was turns, junior year drylands and core and senior year speed work.

“We also worked on communication. I am a very direct person and am constantly giving corrective feedback. Meredith was exceptional at receiving and implementing it. Her junior and senior years we met weekly. Our increased communication outside of the pool translated into better pool and weight room performance and ultimately resulted in some astounding game day swims. That said, we had our shouting matches and our days where we wouldn't look at each other but in general our communication was a critical component to her success,” says Mead.

“Although the team valued one another's contributions, a few people sometimes were envious of Budner's accomplishments. However, her success motivated them to work harder resulting in greater success for the team. During her four years our team was undefeated in the CAA and won four conference championships. Meredith was a team leader and came to excel at one-on-one communication,” he says.

“Meredith's social life in college was another contributing factor to her success,” says Mead. “She was content reading books or watching her favorite TV shows with her teammates (Keeping Up with the Kardashians). Her social life did not revolve around bar crawls and beer pong. We have a team culture that encourages social responsibility which in large part explains our team's academic success and athletic development. Meredith's social choices allowed her to recover from workout-to-workout and helped keep her healthy during the year.”

Meredith Budner Sample Sets

Day 1. 500 free set.

Day 1 Set — training for 500 free
500 Free 50 Free
5x: 9x:
5 x 100 [1:30-1:10-1:20-1:10-1:30] 3 x 25 Off Blocks- no breath [1:00]
4 x 75 Easy [1:15] 2 x 75 Easy [2:00]
Rest 30 seconds 50 off blocks for time
500 Off Blocks for Time – 1x Regular
– 1x Fins
– 1x Sneakers

The key was holding pace times linked to specific goals, i.e. the 500 free set. Given her goal time was 4:34 Meredith would need to hold 55.5 or faster for all 5 sets of 5 x 100.

200 IM
4 x 50 [1:00-:50-:45-:40]
2 x 75 Easy [1:30]
Rest 30 seconds
8 x 25 [:35-:30-:25-:30]
2 x 75 [1:30]
Rest 30 seconds
200 IM for Time off Blocks

Day 2 Set — training for 400 IM
100's Stroke 400 IM
7x: 3x:
4 x 25 [:30] 16 x 25 [:30 ] – 1x fins
Easy 100 [ 2:00 ] 2 x 75 easy [1:20 ] – 1x swim, – 1x buoy
2 x 50 [:50 ] Rest 2:00
Easy 150 [2:45] 8 x 50 [:50] 3x
Broken 100 [2:00] 2 x 75 easy [1:20]
(:10 @ 25,:10 @75) Rest 2:00
Easy 200 [4:00] 4 x 100 [1:40]
2 x 75 easy [1:20]
200 Free
4 x 50 1x swim -:45-:25-3:00
2 x 75 easy [1:20] 1x fins- : 45-:25-3:00
Rest :30 1x swim -:45-:30-3:00
8 x 25 1x Pull-: 45-:25-3:00
2 x 75 easy [1:20] 1x swim-: 45-:30-3:00
Rest :30
Broken 200
(:10 @ 50,:10 @100, :10@ 50)
2 x 75 easy [1:20]
Rest 1:30

Golden Tiger — A favorite warm up set
600 pull on 8 min.
4 x 75 IM on 1:10
6 x 25 sprint on :30
200 kick on 3:20
50 scull

“This warm-up hits all muscle groups, brings the heart rate up and is good lead-in set to a test set. Often we would go through two Golden Tigers and then get into the test set,” says Mead.

Pat Mead, Head Coach, Towson University

Backstroker, school record holder and three-year team captain, Pat Mead (B.A. Political Science, University of Delaware, '92, M.A. Education with emphasis on Athletic Administration, Springfield College, '94), found a wife and a job as an assistant swim coach while at Springfield. From there he spent four years establishing the men's and women's teams at Drew University, returned to Newark for one year as an assistant before assuming the reins at Towson.

Now in his 15th year Mead's Tiger teams continue to perform with academic (both earned 2012 CSCAA recognition) and athletic distinction. In building a mid-major swimming power his women have amassed a 131-39 dual meet record, won the last four CAA championships while he has earned five CAA Coach of the Year accolades.