Zack Kundel, Smith College’s New Coach, Has Heart for Program


By Abby Bergman, Swimming World College Intern.

It is not an easy feat to step into a position vacated by a beloved coach of 40 years. This, however, is exactly what Coach Zack Kundel plans to do at Smith College this fall. Former Smith College head Coach Kim Bierwert retired after the 2016-17 season and Coach Kundel is preparing to take over the role. “

Zack has been an excellent assistant coach of the last two years,” Coach Bierwert says. “He will continue to bring energy, dedication and passion to our program.”


Kundel racing at Ithaca College. Photo Courtesy: Zack Kundel

Coach Kundel began his swimming career when his father brought him to “tiny tots” swim lessons in his hometown of Del Mar, New York. He went on to join the Del Mar Dolphins swim team, where he swam until high school. In addition to joining his high school’s swim team, where he served as a captain senior year, Kundel was also a member of the baseball team. Because of his swimming prowess, his baseball teammates affectionately called him “Aquaman.”

A talented sprinter, Kundel was recruited to swim for Ithaca College and represented the team at NCAAs in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Kundel set and still currently holds Ithaca College records in the 50 freestyle, 200 freestyle relay, and 200 medley relay. He graduated from Ithaca with a degree in health and physical education in 2014 and received a master’s in coaching from Smith College in 2017.


Coach Zack Kundel at a Bluefish-Williston meet. Photo Courtesy: Zack Kundel

Coach Kundel’s initial inspiration to coach stemmed from a love of teaching coupled with frustration with the school system. “With sport, you are able to teach things in the pool that athletes can bring to everyday life,” Kundel explained. He began coaching in the age group program at Ravena Rave while still in college and went on to coach at Charles River Aquatics, Boston College, and the Bluefish-Williston.

Through these different experiences, Kundel eventually decided that his passion lies in the collegiate rather than club environment. A Division III athlete himself, Coach Kundel is committed to the Division III model and strives to help his athletes reach their goals, both in and out of the pool.

“Division III allows for people to explore different things,” Kundel says. “They can accomplish things they want to accomplish in the pool to be a more well-rounded person.”


Photo Courtesy: Zack Kundel

During his first year as Assistant Coach at Smith College, Coach Kundel had an experience which he credits with solidifying his desire to make coaching his permanent career. He spent much of the year coaching a pair of sprinters, Meri Millman and Erin Walch, helping them improve as swimmers while he improved as a coach. “It was really special watching both of them race back-to-back heats at conference championships,” Kundel describes. “They both crushed their goal times and that was really special to watch.”

Millman and Walch also felt that Coach Kundel was an integral part of their growth as swimmers. “He would go out of his way to figure out why my shoulder was hurting or how I could improve my stroke,” Millman says. “Every swimmer could see Zack walking up and down the lane ‘land-swimming’ so he could figure out how to improve your stroke.”

“Zack spent a lot of time helping me tackle the mental edge of sprinting,” Walch says. “He supported me on my great days and especially on the bad ones. ”


Coach Kundel with Millman and Walch at 2016 NEWMAC Championships. Photo Courtesy: Meri Millman

Throughout his graduate program, Kundel realized that he wanted to make Smith College his permanent home. “The team itself and the synergy is something that I always envisioned in a program and is something that’s really special,” Kundel explains. “There is also a strong sense of teamwork and a home away from home atmosphere.” Committed to returning to Smith College eventually, Coach Kundel planned to wait for an opening there before applying for a head coaching position anywhere else.

A passionate coach and teacher, Kundel’s colleagues and swimmers agree that he is ready to make a positive impact on the Smith College program while preserving its historic character.

“Zack is a talented coach,” Morgan Cooper, who coached alongside Kundel at Smith College, says. “With an eye for technique and a heart for the Smith College team.” Though the departure of Coach Kim Bierwert leaves big shoes to fill, there’s no doubt that Coach Kundel is up to the challenge.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x