First-year swimming coach seeks to turn team around

by Sabena Allen | 1/6/17 2:00am

James Holder, the new head coach of men and women’s swimming and diving, has set out to change the culture of the swim program, which former coach Jim Wilson headed for 23 seasons on the men’s side and 10 seasons on the women’s side before stepping down last year. Holder hoped to improve upon last season’s performance in which both teams finished eighth at the 2016 Ivy League Championship, but the start of this season has shown that better results may not come quickly.

Holder coached at Georgetown University for the past six years. Before that, he was an assistant coach for five seasons at his alma mater, Princeton University. Holder’s focuses include team community, recruitment and training.

“My goal is to recruit a really strong class, get the kids that we have on the team faster, which I think we’re doing,” Holder said. “Hopefully [we will] score more points at [the] Ivy [League] Championships, and ride the wave that we create into the future.”

After being named the head coach in April, Holder has added consistent warm-ups and stretches to the team’s training regimen, along with an emphasis on injury prevention. There has also been greater stress on positivity, he said.

Holder’s athletes have already begun to feel the change in the team’s culture and mindset during practices.

“Now, every time we get in the water, there’s a sense that the work you do is going to get you closer to achieving your goals for the end of the season,” men’s co-captain Timo Vaimann ’17 said.

Holder also said that he hopes to bring the team together.

“One thing we’re working on is trying to create a really good culture based on hard work and doing what’s best for the team, and keeping each other accountable...focusing on things we can control instead of necessarily winning or losing meets,” Holder said. “At this point we’re not talented enough to really be all that competitive, but I think focusing on the culture and those types of things we can take away positives from meets.”

Holder said he is optimistic, especially for the latter part of the season, as current training begins to pay off.

“Our best meets are to come towards the end of the year,” he said.

Holder also seeks to break the long streak of low placings in the Ivy Championships. He intends to utilize the Big Green’s underdog advantage.

“Nobody in the league is expecting much from us, so I’m hoping that we can surprise some people in the years to come,” Holder said.

Vaimann believes the team’s greatest strength is its resilience.

“As a team, the biggest accomplishments have been the work that we have put in [in] terms of our training,” Holder said.

The team has seen improvements this season through new swim sets designed to improve speed and endurance as well as increased morale.

“I think [our] optimism has been one of the greatest improvements,” men’s co-captain Joby Bernstein ’17 said. “Spreading negative energy can be very harmful to not just one’s self but to the entire team. I have seen a lot more encouragement and belief in one’s self this year.”

Many members of the team have improved their times during the early season.

“The team seems to be getting into better shape by the week,” Vaimann said. “Even at the end of the rough training trip in Hawaii, when swimming against [the University of] Hawaii, many swimmers beat their times from the mid-season meet at Brown [University], which is something that I haven’t seen before.”

For example, Caroline Poleway ’19 beat her 200-yard butterfly time from the Dec. 3 meet at Brown during the meet at Hawaii on Dec. 19, improving her final time from 2:09.59 to 2:09.42 seconds.

But this early success has yet to translate into the team’s overall record. On Nov. 11 to 12, the men and women’s squads lost a tri-meet to Cornell University and Harvard University. The men’s team placed last at the Bruno Invitational, and the women’s team took fourth out of six teams.

Holder said that he came to Dartmouth to win championships. He hopes to make the Big Green his home for a while.

“I definitely see Dartmouth as a place that I could be long term,” Holder said.

He also plans to build the team through recruiting and improve its standing on the whole.

“I am really pleased with the recruiting class we have coming in next year,” Holder noted. “There are a lot of girls and guys in that class that can come in right away and help us out with the Ivy [League] Championships, which is definitely what we need.”

Current team members are also optimistic for the future of the team.

“I acknowledge that rising in the Ivy League rankings is a strenuous, long-term process,” Vaimann said. “However, it would be great if we could manage to make the first step and rise from eight position to seventh this year, which would set a better foundation to build from for the next season.”

The swim team’s next meet is against the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University in New Haven on Jan. 6 to 7. After that, the Dartmouth Invitational will be hosted on Friday, Jan. 20 and Saturday, Jan. 21.