Coach: Tom Hodgson – 32 years as coach, 1 conference title
Last Year’s Score/Place: 709/1st
St. Thomas emerged last year with their first men’s conference title since before the school was co-ed. The rise to the top may look surprising to some as they finished 4th in 2008 and 3rd in 2009. But UST doesn’t plan to drop back down to 3rd or 4th place finishes any time soon. They’ve brought in another solid recruiting class with some of the top swimmers in the state of Minnesota.
At this point, UST looks to be right in the mix with St. Olaf for a possible repeat.
I had a chance to email former coach (I swam at UST for a year) Tom Hodgson. Below are his responses…
Casey: As returning conference champs, did your goals this season change at all?
Tom: No, our goal is always to have every swimmer swim up to the limits of their potential. When they do that, the points and places take care of themselves.
Casey: You had maybe your biggest recruiting classes ever these past two years. Other than new facilities, have you changed your approach to recruiting at all in recent years?
Tom: Yes. I am much more intentional about recruiting than in the past. I meet with a lot of kids, both juniors and seniors. We contacted elite swimmers from MN, IA, WI, IL. I think the word is getting out around Minnesota and Wisconsin that St. Thomas is a great place to come swim…in arguably the fastest 25-yd pool in this part of the country, in a program that values character, balance, and a sense of family…but also a program in which you can work hard and improve a ton. I urge swimmers to pick the school that is the best fit, and provides the greatest set of opportunities for them.
Casey: You used to train in what I called the “bus station”, but now have the top pool in the conference. Have the new facilities changed how your team practices?
Tom: Absolutely. We are much more specific in our training, because we have 12 lanes (and we don’t have to practice in two shifts, six to a lane). It’s not unusual to run 5 or 6 different workouts in a given practice. We have the technology in our timing system to get very precise in assessing the quality of starts, turns, relay starts, and breakouts. We also do a lot of video work to achieve a level of precision in stroke work that can result in real time over the course of a 100 or 200.
Casey: With such a deep team this year, how do you decide on who makes the conference roster? Especially when swimmers left off might score at the meet.
Tom: You look at everything, and do your best to determine who will have the best chance to score the most points. It’s not an exact science, but you do your best. It is hard when you have 20-some kids who could score, and all of them have earned it. But even those who aren’t swimming at the MIAC’s made a huge contribution by dropping a ton of time at the MN Challenge. They set the stage.
Casey: How do you prioritize conference and nationals with some of your top swimmers?
Tom: Winning the MIAC Championship is our goal, because that’s a team-generated goal that comes out of everyone swimming well and helping everyone else swim well. We have had pretty good success peaking for conference and holding the taper, working on getting faster in the interval between MIACs and NCAAs. The trick is getting close to the same emotional peak that the MIACs give all the swimmers in the conference.
Casey: Your team seems to have a lot of top swimmers in similar events (sprints). How will you choose relays this year?
Tom: There is no magic formula. Some kids are really emerging in practice, and some will shine at the meet. We’ll figure out how to put together the best five relays we can. We’re fortunate to have swimmers that sincerely put the needs of the team ahead of their own, and that makes the process somewhat easier.
Casey: Rumors on the forum have you retiring soon. Any truth to that?
Tom: I have no idea where that rumor started. Why would I want to retire, when my team is comprised of many of the best people swimming in Minnesota? I have an incredible facility, and I feel like I’m at a stage in my career where I can really bring my 40+ years of experience to bear on every aspect of what we’re doing. No question, the hours are long, but when you watch a swimmer going their lifetime PRs in the middle of January, (and we have a couple dozen of them right now) and you haven’t even begun to rest, how do you walk away from that? Besides, I’m only 61…about forty years younger than Dave Hauck, I think.
Casey: Where do you buy your ties?
Tom: I haven’t bought a new tie since you were in Junior High, Casey.
Thanks to Tom for his responses, and good luck at 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.