Coach: Jon Carlson – 21 years as coach, 7 Conference titles
Last Year’s Score/Place: 701/2nd
Gustavus enters the 2011 MIAC conference meet coming off a strong 2nd place finish in last year’s MIAC championships. The team fell just 8 points shy of recording Head Coach Jon Carlson’s 8th conference title in the past 11 years.
Close calls are nothing new as GAC has been a consistent favorite at the top of the meet since Y2K.
This year is a bit different for GAC. From a team standpoint, they will have a hard time reproducing last year’s overall team success after losing key seniors Skylar Davis, Ross Elenkewich, and Andrew Michelson. At this point, competing with UST and Olaf’s added depth will be a difficult task. The team most likely projects to a 3rd place finish.
I had a chance to email some questions to GAC head coach Jon Carlson (my former coach), here is how he responded…
Casey: You’ve always been known for having a large roster size, and this year is no different. How do you manage to keep so many swimmers focused when only half will make the conference roster each year?
Jon: We get the athletes to focus on getting better, not on getting on the roster. I work hard to give every athlete the attention they need to improve in the water. Making the conference roster is something that they don’t have control over. Unlike other sports, in swimming an athlete’s performance doesn’t affect the performance of a competitor (as compared to basketball or tennis). We also work hard to be inclusive in everything we do. Everyone travels and competes every weekend we swim during the season. Our emphasis on “team” and that everyone plays a role in each person’s improvement seems to create a positive and real bond.
Casey: You seem to have set the trend on using the MN Challenge as a last-chance meet for swimmers to make the conference roster. How many slots do you typically keep open based on that meet? Does that change year to year?
Jon: For those that aren’t initially on the conference roster, we use the MN Challenge as their taper meet. I leave usually 1-2 spots open for those not on the roster to earn a spot on the roster. Swimming fast at a taper meet is good incentive; but when you are also swimming for a roster spot, it seems to create even better performances.
Casey: After a close call with UST last year, what are your team goals for this 2011? Have they differed from previous years?
Jon: The goal of the program is to win the conference every year. That being said, a lot of where we finish is dependent on how well other teams perform. In 2010, we had arguably our best performance at the conference meet in the history of our program in terms of time drops and lifetime bests. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to win the meet.
So we will continue to prepare to make a run at the conference championship this year. We’ll go to the meet with our line-up set to give us the best chance to win, just like every other year.
Casey: GAC used to be Sprinter-U. Lately you have been more dominant in the distance events. Is this a change in recruiting? Coaching style?
Jon: Neither. It’s just the athletes who have chosen Gustavus. As a Division III school with no athletic scholarships, we don’t go out and “pick” athletes based on what our needs are. We are looking for good students hoping to excel in the pool and the classroom regardless of the events they swim. It’s interesting that on the men’s side we’ve had some strong results in the distance events, while on the women’s side we are having arguably the best year ever with our sprinters (even our distance women sprint pretty well!). This is an excellent example of how coaches/programs sometimes get too much credit for the performance of their athletes when it comes to particular events.
Casey: New pools in the metro area seem to be the craze. Has this changed at all how you are recruiting to GAC?
Jon: Nope. We think we run a pretty cool program at Gustavus, and will continue to encourage high school seniors to come and join us. I think we have great facilities (10 lane, 25-yard pool). While new is nice, I think the biggest obstacle is when a school doesn’t have a pool on par, as far as space goes, with the biggest pools in the conference. Until someone builds a 50 meter pool, we will continue to feel that our facilities are as good as anyone in the conference.
Casey: Other than Schultze, Davis, Kirihara, and Rice, any swimmers to look out for at this year’s conference?
Jon: Matt Van Fossen should be mentioned in that group as well. I just don’t know how much these guys are going to drop. I think we’ll have a lot of surprises from different areas. It should be exciting!
Casey: Why don’t divers like going to Gustavus?
Jon: They do! We’ve had two National qualifiers in the past 10 years on the men’s side. Next year should be a very strong year for Gustavus in diving with the athletes that have already chosen Gustavus for next year.
I’d like to thank Jon for returning my email, and look to do previews of all the other MIAC teams prior to the conference meet.
Casey McGovern is a 1999 graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College and a regular contributor to the D3Swimming.com Forums. We appreciate his efforts both in the past and with this current line of articles previewing the MIAC Championships.