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YSU brings back men’s swimming program

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Brandon Cheong from Gainesville, Florida, competes in the 400-yard IM Saturday afternoon at the Beeghly Center Natatorium against Valparaiso.

YOUNGSTOWN — After 34 years, YSU men’s swiming and diving is back.

The Penguins hosted their only home meet of the season Saturday afternoon at the Beeghly Center, as senior day festivities were also held for the women’s swim and dive team in their second and last home meet of the season.

The men’s and women’s team combined to beat the Valparaiso Crusaders by a score of 293-232.

YSU previously had a men’s swim and dive team twice from 1949-1951, then again from 1964-1985.

YSU Athletic Director Ron Strollo said he thought it was important to bring a men’s swim team back after the program was axed.

“I think it’s extremely important,” he said. “We had a long tradition back when we had it in the ’70s and early ’80s. I know that the alums were excited that it came back and more than anything it just provides an opportunity for eventually 25 more kids to have the experience of college athletics and participating in all the benefits that it has, along with getting a degree.”

Providing swimmers with another opportunity to compete is something that first-year coach Brad Smith emphasizes.

“Well, when you don’t have the history, and especially starting so late, a lot of the recruits already have been gone, like the guys we have in this pool right now, they’re guys who had given up on swimming, they’re guys who intended to go to school and just attend school,” he said. “They’re guys who had been injured and had Division I dreams but then those Division I dreams, those collegiate swimming dreams, had disappeared. So that’s kinda the guys we were able to bring in this year and I couldn’t be more proud of them, but that’s been the biggest challenge.

“Now we have them here and the guys are swimming the way they’re swimming and performing the way they’re performing. It’s making it a lot easier to bring in recruits and guys for the following year, but also finding guys that are the right fit, right culture, right attitude, and represent us well and do the right thing. It’s also challenging when you’re starting in May and working until August, but we did a really good job of that. These guys have been super appreciative and grateful for the opportunity.”

Strollo thinks having more student-athletes on campus is important for the growth of YSU.

“Obviously that’s kind of the rule (President Jim Tressel) has pushed is toward helping with the enrollment, so that is important,” Strollo said. “Our student-athletes hopefully add to the diversity and the culture on our campus, and obviously most of them live in the dorms and the apartments and have done very, very well academically, as far as the grade point averages and the graduation rate.

“So hopefully, out student-athletes add that and I thought athletics is one way to attract students that are kind of outside your geographic region.”

Adding a sport always has its challenges, but Strollo felt YSU did a good job at setting the men’s team up for success.

“Nothing is ever easy, but we chose swimming because we had the history, and we have such a great facility. But with that you have to support these kids with the athletic trainers and strength staff, and we were able to hire one additional coach to kind of help with the additional numbers,” Strollo said.

Smith said that having a rag-tag group of swimmers adds character to his team.

“I think because they’re so appreciative and grateful, like some of these guys weren’t going to YSU until I picked up the phone and called them, so the gratitude and appreciation, the enjoyment everyday as they come to practice, they wear it on their shoulders. That is is an opportunity they once didn’t think they would have, it’s an opportunity that a lot of them had given up on, so it’s special,” Smith said. “I’ve coached a lot of men’s teams and a lot of successful men’s teams in the past, but I’ve never really had the enthusiasm and the attitude, and the character that these 10 men exhibit on a day-in day-out basis.”

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