Swimming makes splash with new coach, upgraded facility

Joey Blackwell, Staff Reporter

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After a long offseason, the Alabama swimming and diving team is ready to get back in the water.

Following former head coach Dennis Pursley’s retirement in April, the University hired Indiana associate head sprint coach Coley Stickels as his replacement. Stickels had coached Indiana since 2017 and helped the team become a sprint powerhouse, with the Hoosiers sweeping both the men’s and women’s Big Ten titles in the 2018-2019 season.

Stickels has since relocated to Tuscaloosa, where he hopes to breathe new life into the Alabama program.

“It was a great summer,” Stickels said. “I kinda got thrust from one team into the other, which is interesting because I saw a lot of the Indiana people at nationals this summer. I would say we had a pretty good meet. Overall it’s been a fantastic summer.”

Stickels hopes to bring the momentum that he had at Indiana to the Crimson Tide.

“Basically what we did to achieve that sweep in the Big Ten was depth,” Stickels said. “We had to have depth, and that’s going to be the key here. We have the top guys that can score points, but we’re going to have to add more depth to the relays. Some of the second-tier kids last year are going to have to step up and be first-tier this year. With the new system and new training and new culture, everything like that, we feel like that’s something that’s certainly possible. We think we can make a quick impact.”

A new head coach isn’t the only improvement that the program has made this offseason. In addition to the Stickels hire, the Aquatic Center is also undergoing substantial renovations to better accommodate the team. In addition to completely renovating both the 25-meter and 50-meter pools, the facilities are now also equipped with new locker rooms, offices, conference rooms and other team essentials.

While the updates to the facilities will not be fully complete until late November, Stickels is already happy with the progress he’s seen so far.

“It’s been good,” Stickels said. “It’s been a whirlwind with the new facilities, and thankfully they’re almost done. We’re about over halfway at this point. The outdoor pool is finished, team locker rooms, team lounge, team conference areas, all done. They are beautiful . . . Things will really get a lot easier for us in November when everything’s done.”

Stickels said the new facilities also aid in recruiting new swimmers.

“I think it’s night and day with recruiting, obviously,” Stickels said. “[Recruits] didn’t see the old facilities, but now with the state-of-the-art [facilities], they can compete or even be better than any SEC school or any school in the NCAA.”

“Recruiting has been going fantastic. We have a good shot at getting quite a few of those recruits. With the new facilities and the weight room and everything we bring to the table, I’m not really worried about it.”

Last season, the Crimson Tide won a national title in the men’s 200 medley relay. Senior Zane Waddell, a native of South Africa and one of the swimmers that contributed to the relay, hopes to build on Alabama’s success last season.

“Going into last year, it was a goal of ours to win a national championship in the 200 medley relay,” Waddell said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of teammates to do it with. It’s something we’re aiming on building on this year.”

Waddell agrees with Stickels that depth will be a primary factor in raising the Crimson Tide program to new heights.

“The depth for this upcoming year looks a lot better than it has these past couple of years,” Waddell said. “We’ve got a lot of freshman swimmers, both guys and girls coming in and we’re looking to be a lot better.”

The team will host its first meet of the 2019-2020 season on Oct. 4 at the Birmingham Crossplex, the team’s temporary home until the Aquatic Center’s renovations are completed. The team will be hosting the Georgia Bulldogs.