Perseverance Pays Off for Pepperdine Coach Nick Rodionoff

Photo Courtesy: Pepperdine Athletics

By Erin Himes, Swimming World College Intern

Eight years ago, Pepperdine University swimming and diving coach Nick Rodionoff went through what he calls the worst experience of his life. Following the Waves’ 2007-08 season, he received the news that the swim and dive team, which he had been involved with since 1974 and the head coach of since 2000, would be cut.

Saying Goodbye


Photo Courtesy: Kathrine Kuhlmann

“The team was solid,” Rodionoff says of the squad leading up to the life-shattering news. “We were getting in the top three in our conference every year.”

Upon being made aware of the cut, Rodionoff immediately fought for the athletes, begging for one more year so that the girls could decide what they would do next. The university agreed, giving the team one more year to say goodbye.

Members of the team understandably went on to make other plans, deciding on schools where they could continue to swim or choosing to finish their college career as simply a student at Pepperdine. At Pacific Collegiate Swim and Dive Conference championships, the entire team was honored, putting the program to rest.


Pepperdine Swimmer races in fall of 2008. Photo Courtesy: Pepperdine Athletics

After a successful season and emotional goodbyes, the team was expected to be done. However, just days after conference championships, Rodionoff received a call from the athletic director with news he could barely believe: the program had been reinstated

“My first question was is this going to be permanent?” Rodionoff says. They assured him it would be, with one major loss: the program would now have no scholarships to offer after once having four and a half to give. 



Photo Courtesy: Jeff Golden

After meeting with the team, Rodionoff was able to rally just 11 athletes to compete the following season. While struggling with pulling together the current team, recruiting became even more difficult.

“We figured that was the end,” he says. “We had nothing really to offer.”

In the fall of 2009, with the small team struggling to pull together, the coaches did not believe the program would be able to go on. Though reinstated, continuing on after being broken down was proving to be much more difficult than expected.


Photo Courtesy: Jeff Golden

The lack of scholarship money made recruiting difficult, but proved to attract a different kind of athlete. Rodionoff said the next group of recruits “were interested in the whole package, they didn’t just want to swim. They wanted to get good grades, they wanted to get good jobs, they wanted to get good internships, they wanted a good social life. They wanted everything and that we could offer. We couldn’t offer them any money, but we could offer them a pretty good four years that would help them the rest of their lives.”

The consistency of athletes who could be accepted to Pepperdine based on the quality of their academics lead to a group who “were on the same page.” The change has shaped the team that Pepperdine is today and ultimately lead to a rapid rebuild.



Photo Courtesy: Erin Himes

The change in the recruiting process has ultimately proved extremely successful for the Waves. After adding 17 freshmen in the fall of 2015, the squad finished fourth in the conference, the best finish since 2009, the year that was once expected to be the Waves’ final season. The excellent finish was accompanied by countless program records and All-PCSC performances. 

What’s Rodionoff’s secret to this rapid rebuild? “I tell recruits the whole thing is whether or not you’re going to be happy. Forget everything else, because if you’re happy, it’ll all work. If you’re not, nothing will work.”

Adding another large class of 13 freshmen to the already thriving group should prove to help grow the team even more. When asked about any goals he may have moving forward, Rodionoff says he’s “not a big goal setter,” and that his only goal is for the team to get better every year. He’s afraid, rightfully so, of his team falling into the “do more” mentality of society today, afraid that the girls may lose sight of their accomplishments if they get wrapped up in good never being good enough.


The 2015-2016 Team. Photo Courtesy: Jeff Golden

With happiness as the top priority for his swimmers, Rodionoff continues to push his team not only to grow as athletes, but as students, professionals, and members of society. The cultural change in the team following what was once a devastating loss has attracted even more athletes who are eager to embrace this mentality of overall happiness.

When asked about the growth the team has seen, Rodionoff says it is “because of the school.” Speaking as one of his athletes, it is not just the school that attracted the current team. It is the culture that Nick himself has fostered and the commitment he has shown to the program that will continue to pull in groups ready to push this team to new heights.

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7 years ago

Only coach in USA to produce a AAU National Champion in swimming and in diving.

Johnathan C
Johnathan C
7 years ago

Loved Coach Rodionoff in high school at BHS. After half a season on the swim team he sent me to the football team where I had a lot more fun which lead me to Volleyball where I finally found my sport. I appreciate the path he sent me on. He is an amazing coach and person and this article cheers me up to know that he is still doing what he does best and that is helping his students become better humans.

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