First Person: Swim Coach Richard Sybesma

Completing his 30th year at TCU, swimming coach Richard Sybesma brings enthusiasm and a passion to a program he’s built over the decades. But this year and this squad, might just be his best one yet.

First Person: Swim Coach Richard Sybesma

Swimming and Diving coach Richard Sybesma and the 2009-10 squad adopted the theme "Until Now," which became a season-long rally cry.

First Person: Swim Coach Richard Sybesma

Completing his 30th year at TCU, swimming coach Richard Sybesma brings enthusiasm and a passion to a program he’s built over the decades. But this year and this squad, might just be his best one yet.

The men’s team has had a record-setting season — the first undefeated dual meet season in program history. What’s your perspective? This is probably the best [men’s] team we’ve had in my 30 years here. The Mountain West is the toughest conference we’ve been in since the Southwest Conference days. So what they’ve done is tremendous. We have two great senior leaders in Josh Bagby and Ben Biefnes, who have really taken ownership of our mission. The kids started talking about winning championships, but not because the coaches were. They emphasized it on their own.

Some of your student-athletes have talked about how competitive and spirited practices have become. They’re just trying to bring out the best in one another. We have some really fast kids in the water, and they’re all trying to outdo each other or beat each other. But at the same time, they cheer for each other too. They want to see everybody on the team get personal bests. The coaching staff has done a great job too, keeping them working hard.

When did you know this team might be special? In early October, we were at the North Texas Relays and faced SMU, who we’d never beaten. And I looked at our times and I knew how good we could be. Then we went to Air Force and won. We’d never won there. We’d never won at altitude. They used to have this “air is rare” sign there to psych out opponents. Then Wyoming comes to town and we win something like 14 of 16 events, and then the winter break comes and we’re on a roll.

Were you concerned that the break came at a bad time?  Not really. We deal with it every season. When we come back in January, we go to train at Park City, Utah, at altitude for a couple of days, and then we face Utah on a Wednesday and BYU on a Friday. That Utah match was close. We had to win the last event to win the meet and we barely got it. I think that got us going again. The next day at practice, all I said was “We’ve never beaten BYU here … until now.” I wasn’t sure they got my meaning. I was really confident. So I repeated it, and asked if they had heard me. Well, that saying “Until now” sort of became our motto for the rest of the season. We’ve never won at BYU … until now. We’ve never won the conference … until now. We’ve never gone undefeated … until now. We just kept using that phrase. We made T-shirts with it on it. It’s kind of snowballed. We were fortunate to win at Utah, but after that, it was almost destined.

Describe what it was like for you at the UNLV meet at home to end the season. You did a little something special for the squad.  They were undefeated and ranked 22, I think. UNLV is really good. They’ve won the last four Mountain West meets. So I felt like we needed something kind of extra. So I kind of pulled a Gary Patterson and had special caps made that had the blood lines on them, just like the football team’s helmets. At the pre-meet meeting, about 30 minutes before it starts, we show them to the team. I didn’t go into any big pre-game speech or talk about no one comes into our house. They were already pretty motivated. UNLV was the defending champion. They knew that to be the champion, you have to knock off the champion. So I just said, “This is your opportunity” and let the athletes get themselves ready.

I’ve heard other coaches at TCU say that the football team’s success this past fall is a big motivator to the other Horned Frog athletes and teams. Do you agree?  Definitely. The whole athletic department has momentum. It started with the football team, especially around the time of the new uniforms they wore and ESPN “College Gameday” coming here. Now you have women’s basketball ranked, baseball’s ranked high, we won a conference title. It sort of energized everybody who represents TCU through athletics.

There was a record crowd for the UNLV meet. Did you catch yourself looking up at the stands?  Somewhere between 100 and 150 is a good crowd for us. I think we had 500 and they were all standing and cheering. We brought in extra seats and put them on the decks. I couldn’t relax and enjoy the atmosphere. There was a lot going on, and the meet was back and forth early on. But later, I was able to see some of our former swimmers who had attended and that meant so much to me. The athletics director was there. Mark Valdez, the equipment manager for my first team in 1979 came. There were some people there I didn’t expect to see at a TCU swim meet. It was a very good day for TCU Swimming.

Some of the kids said they could tell a difference. They handled it really well. I think near the end, as we had a comfortable-enough margin, the excitement shot up another couple of notches. They won big over a really good opponent. The opening relay really set the tone, winning it by two one-hundredths of a second. I think that after that, our stroke events were really solid, but more important, when we were able to win events, we were able to sweep them by finishing 1-2-3 or 1-2-4. That was really a big key to our victory. And it’s one of the biggest in our program’s history. It was our biggest crowd ever and for them to witness a conference championship is really special. It’s great to be a Horned Frog right now. Our program is on the rise.

I guess you and the other coaches didn’t mind getting thrown in the pool. [Laughs] Not at all. Not for a conference championship.

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