The 2018-19 season represents a new chapter for the Penn State Altoona men's and women's swimming program. With a new head coach and a new home facility, the Lions' swim teams are poised for a fresh start
The teams will be led by head coach Brad Brooks, who was hired in July to be the program's fifth coach in the NCAA Division III era of Penn State Altoona Athletics. Brooks comes to the Lions after a standout swimming career at McDaniel College, where he was a highly decorated star from 2012-16. Among his swimming accolades, he was a four-time NCAA Division III All-American, was selected the Centennial Conference's 2015-16 Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and claimed 10 Centennial Conference individual championships.
The swimming program also begins its first full year using the brand new Adler Natatorium. After completion of the pool's $1.5 million upgrade, which was part of the larger Adler Athletic Complex Expansion and Renovation project, the Lions and Lady Lions were limited to just one late-season meet in the new natatorium. This year, the teams are utilizing the new facility as their full-time practice and home competition venue.
Brooks hopes that this all-around reboot of the Penn State Altoona swimming program will help lay the foundation that will produce successful collegiate teams. He also understands that, to begin to accomplish this, his athletes need to remain focused on the bigger process of creating a new culture.
"I'm looking forward to building a culture of success. I've constantly stressed that we are at a stage where the direction of the program and the attitude of the team mean more right now than any one individual on the team," Brooks explained. "I'm enjoying getting to know the team, both in and out of the pool, and establishing the mindset of a successful group of student-athletes, and seeing where that takes us. While there is a focus on the end goal of competing at a high level at the conference championships, I'm trying to stay focused on the day-to-day work and progress of the swimmers, which has already been impressive in our first five weeks of training."
Penn State Altoona's men's swimming team includes three important returners from last year: juniors Greg Landis (York, PA/West York) and Tanner Yaw (Palmyra, PA/Palmyra) and sophomore Andrew Lesnett (Middletown, NY/Minisink Valley).
"Greg and Andrew both came to me at the beginning of the year with pretty lofty goals, and they have backed those goals up with consistent quality efforts at practice," said Brooks. "We are also looking forward to getting Tanner back full-time once his soccer season ends, as he adds depth to our IM and sprint group."
The Lions' roster also features five first-year swimmers: Bryce Bauer (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone), Matt Beam (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone), Michael Begany (Strongsville, OH/Strongsville), Cooper Gilkey (Ebensburg, PA/Central Cambria), and Tyler Stauss (Voorhees, NJ/Eastern Regional).
"We've got an interesting mix of newcomers to the team this year, and all of them bring something unique to the table," said Brooks. "Bryce, Matt, and Tyler have all shown promise in the sprint to mid-distance freestyle events, and Cooper and Michael should provide some depth in the backstroke that we really need."
Brooks sees this season as an opportunity for his men's squad to lay the groundwork for lasting success.
"Our focus is really on getting just a little bit better every day. With a smaller roster, we understand the challenges of going into meets against bigger teams, but we still have an opportunity to improve on an individual scale, which all stems from effectiveness and consistency during training," Brooks said. "We're also a very young team. We don't have any seniors on the roster, which means this year can serve as a stepping stone to building our roster up for years to come."
The Penn State Altoona men's swimming team's first meet is at home on Saturday, October 27 at 1:00 p.m. against Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference opponent Pitt-Bradford. After eight more regular season dual meets, the Lions will take part in the AMCC Championships on February 13-16.
The Penn State Altoona women's swimming roster features three returners from last season: junior Emily Beam (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone) and sophomores Danielle Bye (Hockessin, DE/Cab Calloway School of the Arts) and Hannah Kimmick (Greensburg, PA/Hempfield).
"We return three members of our women's team from last year. Danielle is coming off of an incredible freshman season, where she was named the conference newcomer of the year. Rather than being content, she wants to continue to get faster, go after team records, and make a push toward becoming the top swimmer in the conference," said Brooks. "Hannah provides much needed speed for our distance freestyle group, and her effort at practice makes her a great role model for both the men's and women's teams at practice. Emily gives us consistency through the butterfly and IM events, and she and Danielle should get some really high quality stroke training together as we move into the heart of the season."
The Lady Lions also welcome first-year swimmer Kaitlin Heil (Pittsburgh, PA/CAPA) to their ranks.
"Kaitlin looks to make an impact in a variety of events," said Brooks. "She is coming off of a three-year swimming hiatus, but she has already shown major improvements from day one of practice. Her versatility will be key, as we will need her to swim a variety of events in dual meets throughout the year."
Brooks' outlook for his women's team is similar to that of his men. He understands that there will be challenges, but he knows that progress can be made and success can be earned.
"Much like the men's team, we face the challenge of having a small roster. However, all of our ladies bring something different to the table, which gives us opportunities to compete in dual meets regardless of our size," he stated. "We also have very specific individual goals, which will allow our training to be focused and prepare us to swim fast at our conference championships in February."
The first meet of the season for the Penn State Altoona women's swimming team is Saturday, October 27, when the squad hosts AMCC opponent Pitt-Bradford at home at 1:00 p.m. The women's team goes on to compete in nine more regular season events before the season-ending AMCC Championships on February 13-16.