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Swimmers top league championship

By Stephanie Metzger

March 21, 2013

Photo courtesy of CSU Athletics

Some coaches zero in on winning titles and producing elite athletes, but Cleveland State University swimming and diving coach Wally Morton prefers his athletes to excel out of the pool as well.

Over the first weekend in March, the Cleveland State men’s swimming and diving team took the title of Horizon League champs while the women’s team placed second in the league. It was the team’s first league title since 2006, and Morton noted the devotion his team exerted into its successful season that started from the top down.

“It was a magical season in the sense that we came back to start the year with half of our coaching staff as new coaches,” Morton said.

The team welcomed assistant coaches Kevin Rapien and Bailey Nennig to its squad to start the year. Rapien joined Cleveland State after two seasons serving as the assistant coach at the University of North Dakota. Nennig was an aquatic director and swim coach at her former high school in her home state of Wisconsin.

In addition to leadership from its new coaches , the swim team also received guidance from its seniors.

“We had tremendous challenges ahead of us, but the one thing that we had that was a constant was our team itself with great senior leadership,” Morton said.

Morton added that the team was led by 12 seniors, many of which hail from the greater Cleveland area. One of the team’s most impactful leaders, however, comes all the way from South Africa.

“One of the biggest leaders was Mark deSwardt,” Morton explained. “He called meetings of the team on his own to keep them focused.”

The women’s swim team also received strong leadership from its seniors, including another continental leader, Alice Sommerville.

Sommerville, a native of New Zealand, was one of the swim team’s most successful swimmers. Morton praised Sommerville’s dedication both in the pool and in the classroom, and called her “arguably the greatest swimmer in the history of the Cleveland State swim program.”

Finishing in first and second place in the Horizon League Championship was a significant feat for the swim teams, but Morton also noted their academic success. According to Morton, the women’s team has the fifth highest grade point average in the nation while the men’s team was honored as academic all-Americans by the College Swim Coaches Association.

The swim teams have reached athletic and academic recognition, but their devotion to the community is also credible. The team spends time tutoring inmates and students, helps the homeless and disadvantaged, contributes to tornado relief and raises money for Kids Kicking Cancer by hosting swim camps.

Studying and serving the community is time-consuming, and two-a-day practices only contribute to the workload, but Morton venerated his team’s motivation, even when the work grind became tough.

“What you put in something is what you get out,” Morton said. “It just means more if you go through that grind.”

Morton also was rewarded for his own leadership of the team. He was named the Horzon League Coach of the Year, an honor which he simply attributes to his swimmers and coaching staff.

Now that the season has drawn to a close, the Cleveland State swim team has some time to enjoy the glory of its championship. Soon enough, they’ll return to the pool for more hard work and Coach Morton hopes next year’s group puts forth the same passion and devotion to athletics and academics.