Trio of first-year Missouri swimming coaches making their mark

Saturday, February 2, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The Missouri swimming and diving team enjoyed one of its most successful seasons in school history last year. The women's team finished No. 14 in the nation, and the men's team finished No. 19.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, other programs across the nation took notice of their achievements.  More specifically, other programs took notice of their coaching staff.

Perennial powerhouse Texas enticed associate head coach Roric Fink to become a Longhorn.

Nebraska lured assistant coach Pat Rowan back to his hometown.

South Carolina convinced assistant head coach Randi Vogel to take her talents to another college town named Columbia.

“It was tough,” Missouri head coach Greg Rhodenbaugh said.  “After our successes last year, we got picked off on assistant coaches.  They all went places where they went up in positions or pay.”

But Rhodenbaugh harbors no grudges against his former coworkers or their current employers.  He expressed appreciation for Fink, Rowan, and Vogel’s work at Missouri, crediting each for his or her role in the program’s turnaround.

Besides, Rhodenbaugh is far more interested in discussing the program’s future, not past, and the trio of coaches he handpicked as their replacements.

“I think we traded up,” he said, grinning slightly.

Following Fink’s departure in May, Rhodenbaugh said he searched for a candidate experienced in coaching and recruiting.  He remembered John Pontz, whom he met while the two were assistants at Arizona, and decided to give him a call.  Pontz, then an associate head coach at Maryland, accepted the same position at Missouri in July.

Midway through Monday’s practice, Pontz mirrored the paths of his long-distance swimmers with an iPad connected to a long plastic piece of tubing.

“We film our swimmers,” he said, explaining the gadget’s function.  “Then we send them video of their technique.  It would be just like a golfer watching his golf swing.”

Rhodenbaugh praised Pontz’s work coordinating recruiting for Missouri, where he signed four women with upcoming Olympic trials in last year’s class alone.

“He’s really creative with the stuff he comes up with,” sophomore Matt Davis said.  “He really cares about what everyone does.”

As for the remaining vacant coaching positions, Rhodenbaugh searched for candidates who could help with Missouri’s sprint and middle-distance swimmers.  He convinced former Olympian Mark Gangloff and 11-time NCAA All-American Julie Stupp to become a part of his staff.

Gangloff works with Missouri’s sprint swimmers and is in charge of the Tigers’ dry land fitness, a duty he does not take lightly.

“He’s kind of like a drill sergeant,” Davis said.  “He definitely works us hard, but I think it pays off.”

“When I go home my daughter asks me if I made them lunge today,” Gangloff said with a laugh.

Stupp, whom Rhodenbaugh coached at Arizona, works alongside the head coach with the middle-distance swimmers and coordinates the program’s travel schedule.

“She has an incredible amount of energy,” Rhodenbaugh said. “She just oozes personality. Her greatest attribute is she can connect with our swimmers.”

A microcosm of her coaching demeanor revealed itself in Monday’s practice. When a swimmer playfully squirted Stupp with a Gatorade bottle, she reciprocated the prank with a light pat on the swimmer’s head. 

Seconds later, she averted her attention to senior Ryan Sellers, who seemed to think practice had concluded.

“Sellers, you’re not done. Put your cap back on,” she said.

Sophomore Stephen Sobczak said the coaching trio’s mixture of experience, innovation and intensity has made Missouri swimming and diving even stronger.

“They just bring a whole new atmosphere,” he said. “It’s been a 180 compared to last year.”

Rhodenbaugh said he could not be more pleased with the new members of Missouri’s coaching staff.

“There was immediate acceptation from the team,” he said.

Missouri held the first day of the Tiger Invite on Friday. The event, which concludes Saturday, is the team's last meet before the Southeastern Conference Championships Feb. 19 through 23 in College Station, Texas.

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