There is a new coach in town, and her Olympic background has Stony Brook University’s expectations higher than the jump while platform diving. Janelle Atkinson, a two-time Olympic swimmer and head coach of the team, is gearing up for her first year as a Seawolf, leading a fresh pack as they look to come out like sharks.
“The main expectation is that it’s going to take time to rebuild and that I have to teach myself more patience, because that’s not something I’m good at,” Atkinson said. “The main focus is building a type of culture that can be sustained for the future and being able to start from scratch and figuring out what we need to do.”
Atkinson served as Fairfield University’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving team coach for three years. Using that experience, along with assisting UConn’s men’s and women’s teams for four years, Atkinson is pushing her Seawolves into the depths.
The team began to hold official practices in the university’s brand new pool, which was made public at the beginning of May, the second week of September. But even before the team could officially practice, they had informal sessions to prepare for the challenge ahead.
“This is about 100 times harder than my normal practices were in high school,” Ava DeMayo, a freshman from California, said.
Not only has the team been spending additional hours practicing in the pool –they are spending plenty of time together away from it as well. DeMayo is rooming with fellow freshman Sara Chin, and others are living with each other as well.
“We’ve developed a really good friendship,” DeMayo explained. “Everyone on the team is super close. We’re all very dedicated and we all really want to be here.”
While the drive is there to succeed, it is Atkinson’s job to push them to a level they have never seen before. After all, she recruited the team herself before she even saw her office at Stony Brook, and even added on a handful of walk-ons.
“We’ll get there,” Atkinson said. “We’re in the honeymoon phase where we’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s great.’ Now, things are getting really hard. For them, it’s a little on the frustrating side because they feel like we’re just grinding it out.”
The Seawolves’ season starts on Oct. 21, when they journey up north to race Vermont in their first match.
The struggles of the new squad are already being felt. From the pain due to intensity to the coping with balancing school and training, it is a new level of competition for a team that only has two swimmers with previous NCAA experience.
“It’s always tough for a new program,” Emily Cabral, a junior who transferred from LIU Brooklyn, said. “Once we get into meet season, I think it’ll be more realistic for everybody. Right now, it’s just train, train and train.”
For this new squad, Atkinson believes the potential is there. With heavy support from Athletic Director Shawn Heilbron, resources will continuously be piled into the program as the school looks to make it a Division I success story in its first year.