The 2013-2014 University of Utah Swimming and Diving season was a complete turnaround from the scandal ridden season of a year before. Utah beat several Top 25 teams, and the Utes finished 23rd at the NCAA Championships last year.
Previous head coach Greg Winslow had several serious accusations levied against him, including sexual abuse (seven years ago with with the Sun Devils Aquatics club in Tempe, Ariz., unrelated to the Utah team), verbally and physically abusing his assistants, racial slurs, alcohol abuse on team trips, and borderline abusive drills in practice. Winslow’s contract was not renewed at Utah, and Winslow was added to USA Swimming’s banned-for-life list.
The resulting scandal spilled onto ESPN and the local media pages, nearly costing athletic director Dr. Chris Hill his job in the process. These were the murky, choppy waters into which Joe Dykstra, Utah's new head swimming and diving coach, waded. While he had no hand in the scandal or its investigation, Dykstra, formerly of North Texas, did replace Winslow as the waves were only beginning to settle.
"It presented a unique set of challenges," Dykstra said, "more administratively than anything else. Obviously, we have a lot to clean up in terms of public perception and administrative stuff, a lot of behind-the-scenes work on my part to get everything righted with the program."
Although the task was a tall one for Dykstra, the Utes swimmers eased the pain.
"With the athletes, it was a little simpler than I was expecting," Dykstra said. "The swimmers were really, really hungry for a change in direction and a change in approach. They bought in from day one and were motivated and excited about the change right from the start. That was really exciting for me to have such a motivated group of athletes, and to be frank, a lot better talent level than what I was expecting coming into this job."
As for cleaning up the public perception of the program, Dykstra said, "That was a little more complicated than I was expecting. But we have both going the right way now."
The Utes are only looking forward now. With newly named captains Alex Brown, Alex Fernandes, Melissa Paakh, Jasmine Matkovic, and Giuliana Gigliotti, Utah is focused on the upcoming season. Recently, Dykstra's 2014 recruiting class received a no. 24 national ranking from collegeswimming.com.
"Success breeds success, so it's obviously wonderful to get that kind of recognition and publicity," said head coach Joe Dykstra. "It’s going to help us with our future recruiting."
Is the ranking accurate, though? Dykstra said he didn’t think it gave the Utes class enough credit.
"To be honest," Dykstra said, "I think our ranking is a little bit low. They did not update their recruit profiles since the fall, they're missing a couple of our incoming guys, and they didn't update the best times of some of the others that swam exceptionally fast this past spring. So I think if you make those adjustments and include the missing people in that class, I think we'd actually be quite a bit higher."
Three of the swimmers left off the ranking were Brandon Deckard (Bend, Ore.), Brandon Shreeve (Corvallis, Ore.), and junior University of Iowa transfer Quillan Oak.
"They’ll be three of the best on our team," Dykstra said.
Utah has a trio of incoming distance swimmers in Shreeve, Peter Kotsin (Helena, Mont.), and Jay Bolinger (Allen, Texas).
"They’re going to help us dominate the distance races in the coming four years," Dykstra said.
One place the Utes struggled last season was in breaststroke depth. They’ve solved that by bringing in Oak, Jack Burton (Ringwood, Hants, Great Britain), Keith Schendel (Seattle, Wash.), and Ganem Tebet (Murrieta, Calif.).
"Those four guys are going to transform the way our team looks in the breaststroke races," Dykstra said.
Tebet just made a U.S. National Championship time standard this past weekend in California.
In all, Utah signed 18 swimmers and one diver to national letters of intent in addition to Oak’s transfer from Iowa. The Utes are stockpiling depth on an already nationally competitive team.
"[Our goal] is to improve on our national rank," said Dykstra. "That’s the biggest thing… We feel like should be in the top 15 this next year, and that’s the goal of everybody in the program."