The Elizabethtown College men’s and women’s swimming teams have undergone a few changes to their program thus far in the season. Former assistant coach, Mark Wilson, was promoted to the head coaching position for both teams, and Ryan Epler was hired as the program’s new assistant coach. Although a new coaching staff provides potential for a stressful season, Wilson and Epler have proven to Etown that their teams can overcome the obstacles.
Former Head Coach Dan Dehass resigned at the end of last year’s season to be close to his primary job in Florida. Although the players and staff were sad to see their coach go, they welcomed the new coaching staff to their team. “They were used to me; they took Ryan [Epler] right away. It was an easy transition,” Wilson explained. “Ryan is a great asset and is tremendous with the swimmers for technique training,” he added.
Wilson started his own swimming career when he was only eight years old. He graduated from Millersville University and was a part of both the swimming and water polo teams while he was a student. He considers his greatest swimming accomplishment to be the fact that he has been able to remain committed to his favorite sport for the majority of his life.
Coaching Etown’s swimming teams is not the first time that Wilson and Epler have worked together. They both worked full time at Lancaster Bible College, and this familiarity is an advantage to the program.
Epler, who swam for Misericordia University, was eager to start his job as the new assistant coach. “I was excited to help share knowledge and experience with the team,” Epler said. He also reported that his family is just as thrilled about his new job and is very supportive. “They are happy to see me doing something that I enjoy,” Epler said.
Coming from one of Etown’s competitors, Misericordia, has not discouraged Epler’s drive to win. “A lot of what I teach the swimmers comes from what I learned at Misericordia, and I think the kids have really listened to my advice that I give them. I feel they respect me and where I came from since they get to see Misericordia swim every year,” Epler explained.
Although Epler was excited to be a part of Etown’s swimming program, he admitted that it was somewhat difficult to adapt to the teams. “It was a challenge the first few weeks to get to know the kids and know what they are capable of doing in the pool. After two months of being around the team, they are great to coach and have a strong work ethic,” he said.
Epler began swimming when he was five years old and is also happy to have been able to stick with it for so long. “Swimming all four years for a college program is a great accomplishment. Swimming six nights a week with three morning practices on top of a full class load is tough,” he explained. Since Epler and Wilson have already experienced what their swimmers are currently undergoing, this has allowed them to be empathetic to the teams and better understand their frustrations and points of view.
Wilson and Epler expressed how fortunate they feel to be able to coach both the men’s and women’s swimming team. “It’s a wonderful opportunity with some great challenges,” Wilson said. This is uncommon because most college athletic teams do not hold practices and meets together due to having different rules for each gender. “I think it is great to have the battle of the sexes at practice…it helps push everyone,” Epler noted.
Although the two teams do not have different rules, they are trained somewhat differently. Wilson reported that, during the beginning of the season, the teams are treated equally in their training. This is because the main focus of their practices is getting every swimmer back into shape. However, after the first two months, each team has a different training routine.
Both the men’s and women’s teams have an overall and conference record of 3-2. Although both coaches would like the teams to improve their records throughout the remainder of the season, they are content with the work the swimmers have done thus far. According to the coaches, Etown’s swim teams have a much smaller program than some of their competitors, but the fact that they are able to remain strong is a win in itself. Epler also commented that many of the swimmers have been battling sicknesses and that is a recent disadvantage to their season. “We are trying to get everyone back in the pool and healthy,” Epler said.
In addition to improving each teams’ records, the coaching staff’s main goal for the rest of the season is “to see the kids do their best times, and place well at MAC’s,” Wilson said. Epler has a more specific goal in mind for both the men’s and women’s teams. “I would like to see the women finish top four at MACs and see the men finish top five. It is a goal that I know is possible if everyone keeps working hard,” he noted.
Earlier in the season, both teams competed against Etown’s rival, Messiah College. The women’s team lost 89-172 and the men’s team also lost with a final score of 73-185. Swimming against such a huge competitor could have been seen as a disadvantage for the program. However, the coaches and swimmers have taken it as a learning experience. “Messiah had a great recruiting season; they were a lot bigger and faster than last year,” Wilson said. “I think it was good to swim them early, and now our team knows we have to get ready for MACs when we have a chance to beat Messiah,” Epler added.
With the Messiah loss behind them, the teams are focusing on their next meet against York College of Pennsylvania on Dec. 10. The Blue Jays did not compete against York last year and are hoping to surprise the team with an improved program. “We are faster than we were two years ago. It should be a good meet,” Wilson said. Wilson and Epler are hoping that the teams’ hard work will pay off in the end. “York has a beautiful pool, and it will be a great chance for our swimmers to make MAC cut times and also compete with a great team,” Epler explained.
“There is always room for improvement on every level. That includes coaches, I would love to see improvement in numbers,” Wilson said. In general, both Wilson and Epler feels that as long as the teams continue to improve in endurance, strength and technique, they will end with a successful season.
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. That is what I keep telling our swimmers,” Wilson said. He and Epler are proud of their swimmers for the hard work that they have put in throughout the entire season and for the fact that many of them have swam their personal best times. “It is great to see everyone work hard and see it all pay off, it keeps them motivated,” Epler added.
The only change that Wilson would like to see in Etown’s swimming program is to focus more on recruiting quality swimmers to increase the teams’ numbers. This will help them become an even stronger competitor. “Coach Wilson runs a great program, and I am learning from him. We communicate well, and I feel we are a great mix of knowledge and experience,” Epler concluded.