By Reagan Hoverman
Over the last four years, River Falls High School boys swim coach Caitlin Brudzinski has been encouraged by the continued growth of the RFHS boys swim and dive roster, which is now up to 15 athletes.
In this winter sports preview, coach Brudzinski provided in-depth responses regarding the roster construction, season expectations, the coaching staff and how last season was impacted by the public health crisis that derailed so many sports seasons throughout Wisconsin and the rest of the country. She began with the roster.
“This year we have an interesting roster make-up,” Brudzinski said. “This is the biggest team I’ve coached in my four years and we have 15 athletes. This year we have a couple of statecaliber athletes, as well as several athletes who either haven’t swam competitively before or it’s been a while. We do have an experienced core, although we only have two seniors. They are doing a great job of supporting the newer athletes and it’s been fun to watch them make progress already.”
Because swimming and diving is an individual sport that compiles results into team results – similar to golf, gymnastics or wrestling – every athlete on the roster will play an important role in the success of the team. Brudzinski spoke about the uniqueness of swim and dive.
“On a swim and dive team of 15, every athlete will play a critical role,” Brudzinski said. “When we compete against teams of twice our size, every point counts and we will look to everyone at some point throughout the season to score those points. A couple of athletes we will see in those roles consistently are freshman Daniel Carns and junior Taylor Matter. They are a couple of our top athletes and we’ve already seen them pushing each other to be better. I expect them to lead the team in the pool this year.”
While all of the results and individual performances will be critical for team success, in the eyes of Brudzinski, one athlete who stands out as a leader will be Darin Derks, who is the senior captain of this swim and dive team.
“Senior Captain Darin Derks has been a leader on this team all four years,” Brudzinski said. “We’ll see him giving his all in the pool, rallying the team, keeping everyone focused, continuing his leadership and being a role model for the other athletes on the team.”
While team goals are important, in a sport like swimming and diving, Brudzinski and the coaching staff have focused primarily on individual goals, which each athlete has set before the season. If those goals are achieved, then there is a good chance the team is having success too. She spoke about goal setting.
“Though we compete in a team sport, both swimming and diving focus a lot on individual improvements within competition for the team,” Brudzinski said. “We have each athlete set individual goals at the beginning of the season. They set time-based goals in the pool as well as lifebased goals for out of the pool. We work towards achieving those throughout the season and through achieving those individual goals, we improve as a team.”
While individual success drives team success, Brudzinski and the coaching staff have established team goals that they would like to see reached throughout the year. She spoke about those goals.
“As a team, I have a goal for the team to improve on our conference meet record from previous years. In the past, we have struggled in the conference. But I think the team this year can really compete with the other Division 2 schools.”
Last season, winter sports, swimming and diving specifically, had its season significantly altered because of COVID-19 and the changes that were made to the schedule to accommodate for health concerns and the alternate fall sports season. Brudzinski spoke about those changes and their impact on her team.
“COVID had a big impact on our season last year, not in regard to athletes getting sick, but in regard to the length of our season,” Brudzinski said. “The WIAA shortened the winter seasons in order to make room for the fall alternate. River Falls School District went virtual right after fall sports ended and wouldn’t allow winter sports to begin until the first week of December.”
In what is already a short season that takes a lot of cramming in terms of technique and instruction, cutting the season down even further had a significant impact on the athletes and their development last season.
“For a sport that can spend two weeks on mainly building technique, eight weeks on building up and maintaining aerobic fitness, and another two on tapering/getting ready for sectionals, only having eight weeks meant a very compressed season,” Brudzinski said. “As a small team, our athletes focused on individual improvements and performances.”
The pressure that the athletes were put under last season was immense. The same was also true for the coaching staff. This year, the same coaching staff is back and continues to work with student-athletes as they grow and progress. Brudzinski spoke about her coaching staff this season.
“Annalee Plemmons is my assistant coach,” Brudzinski said. “She has been with me all four years of coaching the boys and the last two years coaching the girls. She has been a solid coach who really excels in working with our newer athletes. She truly cares about each athlete and works to make sure that they are successful, both in the pool and out.”
As of Monday, Dec. 27, the River Falls boys swim and dive team is 1-1 in Big Rivers Conference meets this season. That places them in fifth of seven total teams in the conference. The loss came against Eau Claire Alliance on Thursday, Dec. 2, which was a 118-65 defeat. The win for River Falls was on Thursday, Dec. 16, at home against Rice Lake. River Falls won that match 105-71.
The next match on the schedule for River Falls is on Friday, Jan. 7, at Hudson, a team that is currently in a tie for first place in the BRC with a 2-0 record.
Head Coach: Caitlin Brudzinski Assistant Coach: Annalee Plemmons Darin Derks (Captain) 12 Leo Griffey-Byram 12 Cooper Cernohous 11 Preston Conrad 11 Nathaniel Fosler (Captain) 11 Taylor Matter 11 Ethan Engler 10 Kai Hagen 10 Asher Herrera 10 Michael Ireland 10 Alton Lesneski 10 Daniel Carns 9 Kenny Cosgrove 9 Gus Schmitt-Mischke 9 Ty Wise 9
oto courtesy of Caitlin Brudzinski