Q&A: An Interview With University of Georgia Women’s Coach Stefanie Moreno

stefani-williams-moreno

Q&A: An Interview With University of Georgia Coach Stefanie Moreno

Long ago, Jack Bauerle knew who he wanted to coach the Georgia women’s team upon his retirement. His choice, former Bulldog swimmer and 28-time CSCAA All-American, Stefanie Moreno, is beginning her second season in Athens and has the team aiming for a top-five NCAA finish.

Stefanie Moreno

Head Women’s Coach

University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia

  • University of Georgia, M.S., sports communications, 2002
  • Head women’s coach, University of Georgia, 2022-present; associate head coach, 2016-22; assistant coach, 2012-16
  • Associate head coach, Ohio State University, 2011-12; assistant coach, 2008-11
  • Assistant coach, University of Missouri, 2005-08
  • Head coach, Bloomsburg University, 2004-05
  • Assistant coach, Germantown Academy, 2004-07
  • Coach, USA Swimming National Team, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2022
  • Coach, DC Trident, 2019-20
  • At Georgia, she was a senior captain, 28x CSCAA All-American, 2x NCAA 200 free champion and a member of three NCAA and SEC championship teams
  • American record holder, 200 and 400 free relays
  • 2x USA Swimming national team member
  • Silver medalist, 2001 World Championships & 2003 World University Games
  • Undefeated in every high school swimming competition
  • Inducted into University of Georgia Circle of Honor, 2017

SWIMMING WORLD: What are the origins of your swimming career?

COACH STEFANIE MORENO: I began swimming at age 9 when I joined a local summer league. I then swam for the Bloomsburg YMCA and Bloomsburg High School (Pa.). During the summers, I traveled to Philadelphia and trained with Dick Shoulberg at Germantown Academy/Foxcatcher.

I went to Georgia in the fall of 1998 and swam there through 2004. I was drawn to Jack Bauerle and the program because they were on the way up and had finished in the top five the previous two seasons. Additionally, my uncle, Greg, was an assistant coach on the football staff.

SW: Any important mentors along the way?

SM: During my junior career, my top mentors were Coach Shoulberg, my YMCA coach, Don Remaley, my high school coach, Mike Campbell, and my parents.

SW: An exceptional athlete, you were a state champion and national YMCA record holder in the 50, 100 and 200 yard freestyle. What schools were you considering for college?

SM: I took official visits to Georgia, North Carolina, USC and Arizona.

SW: Jack Bauerle recalls you chasing down a male teammate in high school and deciding, “I gotta get this girl.” Has that mentality always been a part of your DNA?

stefanie-moreno-jack-bauerle-

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

SM: Yes, that has always been a driving force for me. We were in practice, and the coach’s son was messing around. I got annoyed because I needed to do a specific workout, so I told him to “stop messing with my workout.” I have always been super-competitive. He was in my way on that particular day when Jack was there.

SW: How has your relationship with Jack changed from the time you were recruited to UGA, were a swimmer, then assistant coach and finally as his successor?

SM: Jack is my second dad. He has always looked out for me and my best interests in and out of the pool.

SW: Coach Bauerle never thought you ate enough before meets. True or false?

SM: That was definitely true for long meets like SECs and NCAAs. Jack would always make me eat my whole plate of food. I was nervous and excited for the meet, and he knew I needed to fuel.

SW: Your work ethic has been described as impeccable. Where did that come from?

SM: From my parents. They instilled a working-class mentality where nothing was given and everything needed to be earned. Along with swimming, I played basketball and soccer and ran track. With track, I would train very quickly once the swimming season was over. I ended up qualifying for states in the 800-meter and mile. In general, I liked being active and being on a team.

SW: The Kristi Kowal-Courtney Shealy-Stefanie Williams-Maritza Correia Bulldog quartet was part of three NCAA titles at Georgia. What was so special about that bond?

SM: While we only all overlapped for a couple of seasons, we had a great time training with each other. Every day someone would practice well while someone else would be challenged, but we helped each other get through it. We were all highly competitive and driven by our love for the sport and for the University of Georgia. We all wanted to be the best for ourselves because it helped elevate the entire program.

SW: You were a 28x CSCAA All-American and led off all relays while at Georgia. What was that experience like?

SM: Leading off was great because it meant I was the first one finished with her race. When I arrived at Georgia, I expected to anchor relays, but my club coach had told me to prepare for leading off. I was thankful for that opportunity because a team always needs a strong and reliable start to set the team up for success.

SW: One colleague has remarked you have worked for everything that you have achieved, which contributes to your impressive coaching career. Do you believe that to be true?

SM: Yes. I have coached collegiately for 17 years, and I have worked with wonderful people along the way. Each stop on my journey has prepared me for where I am today.

SW: What were some transformative moments for you at Mizzou?

SM: When I started at Missouri, I was right out of college and close in age to many of the athletes. I think that I saw everything in a black-and-white way, so I did not let them see my personality because I wanted them to know I was their coach. Eventually, I realized that they needed to see me as a person for everything to work. I was trying to soak up as much information as possible because it was a new challenge to coach at the Division I level and gain comfort and confidence.

SW: At Ohio State with Bill Dorenkott?

SM: It was my first time ever working with a female-only team, so I had to do a lot of coaching while handling logistics, recruiting, travel, meals, etc. We also only had two coaches, so there was a lot of responsibility on me and Bill.

SW: What have you carried forward to your current post as head coach from your time as an assistant?

SM: My passion for the student-athletes, our swimming and diving program and the University of Georgia.

SW: What have been the biggest changes from being a part of a combined program to running a single-sex team?

Georgia associate head coach Stefani Williams Moreno during a meet against Florida at the Gabrielsen Natatorium in Athens, Ga., on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

Photo Courtesy: Tony Walsh / Georgia Athletics

SM: Some major changes have been tailoring our workouts for women and being more intentional as to what they need throughout the season. In general, we’ve learned to be more focused on the team, going from around 70 athletes to about 30.

SW: Is being the head coach all you expected?

SM: It’s different having the final say, but I love it. Working with assistant coach Fernando Rodriguez and volunteer coach Nate Rhoads has been great—and we have a great group of young women. We had lots of fun in the first year, and it’s going to get even better in the future. It doesn’t feel like work when you enjoy what you’re doing.

SW: Are there any surprises you didn’t see coming other than the presentation of the bulldog puppy from your women?

SM: It was great to see so many individual breakthroughs and improvements from our athletes. I’ve also loved being able to see collectively how much we have improved in terms of team culture and how cohesive we are as a group.

The bulldog puppy, Winnie, was such an amazing gift from the team and just one example of how thoughtful and caring those women are. They make Georgia an even more special place.

SW: And what was the presentation all about?

SM: My husband, Brandon, and I lost our dog, George, on June 30 (of last year). I had been named the women’s head coach on June 8, so I experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows in a very quick timeframe. The athletes knew how close George was to me and Brandon, and they wanted to help heal my heart. It was a wonderful surprise, and I’m thankful for my team.

Michael J. Stott is an ASCA Level 5 coach, golf and swimming writer. His critically acclaimed coming-of-age golf novel, “Too Much Loft,” is in its third printing, and is available from store.Bookbaby.com, Amazon, B&N and distributors worldwide.

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Rando
Rando
10 months ago

Go Stef and Go Dawgs!

Frank Beltran
Frank Beltran
10 months ago

Stef is awesome and a DGD like Jack! Georgia’s women swimming future is very bright with Stef at the helm!

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