Anticipating the effects that the fall opening of the Ratner Athletic Center will have on the swimming program, the Department of Athletics named a new men's coach last Thursday. George "Chip" Villareal, the head swim coach at Frostburg State University in Maryland, will take over as the men's swimming coach as well as director of aquatics in fall quarter.
The swim team has traditionally been small. Without a regulation-sized home pool, they've been forced to travel to other pools in the area for practice. But with the new Olympic-sized pool slated to open in September, the athletics department expects the size of the team to swell over the next few years.
"We were looking for someone who could devote full attention to the men's program and to serve as director of aquatics, and I don't think one person could have done that and the women's program," said Tom Weingartner, director of the Department of Athletics.
Villareal has spent five years at Frostburg State; during that time, his swimmers have set 22 Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference (AMCC) records. He was also selected the AMCC Coach of the Year in both 2001 and 2002.
A graduate of Emory University, Villareal was a four-time NCAA Division III qualifier and a 1994 All-American. He set 11 school records while at Emory and was named the 1993 University Athletic Association (UAA) Swimmer of the Year.
"He was an outstanding swimmer at Emory, which is in our conference," Weingartner said. "He knows the conference, and he knows and understands private, selective universities. And he has had a number of years of experience managing aquatic facilities."
As director of aquatics, Villareal will be in charge of maintaining the new Myers-McLoraine Pool, a 50 by 25-meter pool that will also be able to house 400 spectators.
During his interviews on campus, Villareal was given a tour of the Ratner construction site. "Having swum at some of the most amazing facilities in the country, and just from seeing the bones of the facility, I was awed," Villareal said. "I'm so looking forward to it, and I just want to see the happiness of these student athletes when they begin to take ownership of the place and begin to feel like it's their house."
In his first year here, Villareal hopes to help the men's team achieve its full potential and to set up a recruiting base for the upcoming years. "We need to identify students who will be able to make an impact academically as well as athletically," Villareal said. "We're helped out by the tradition of swimmers being good students; swimmers are usually very goal-oriented, and they tend to do very well in class."
This will be the first time that the swim team will be divided into separate women's and men's programs. Villareal has spoken with Sheila O'Connor, the head women's coach, and he expects to work closely with her, but he said that the teams will probably swim about 50 to 75 percent of the workouts separately.
"Other schools who have made similar changes in the past few years, such as Carthage College, have had great success with dividing the teams," said second-year member of the team Dennis Connolly. "We will still train in the same facility and swim the same meets, so it should not be drastically different than in the past."
Villareal specialized in the distance events at Emory, but in his many years of coaching, he's learned to work with a diverse group of swimmers. He often gets in the water himself to feel through his stroke; he said this helps him to later express the stroke mechanics pedagogically to his swimmers.
"One thing I've picked up very well is breaststroke, and I was an abominable breaststroker in college," Villareal said.
In addition to his degree in anthropology from Emory, Villareal received a master's degree in exercise physiology from Texas A&M University.