First-year head coach looks to shift team culture with large freshman class

Media Credit: File Photo by Arielle Bader | Staff Photographer

Freshman Dylan Arzoni is one of 17 freshmen to join GW's swiming and diving program this year.

Men’s and women’s swimming and diving have welcomed a slew of new faces to the program this season.

The Colonials added 17 rookies to the program for the 2018-19 season, with eight on the men’s side and nine on the women’s side. First-year head coach Brian Thomas said the large group of incoming freshmen helps his goal of raising the program to a national level and creating a culture where the swimmers feel like they can each be a “driving force” in the team’s success.

In an effort to groom the newest swimmers in the program, Thomas said he wants to make GW a year-round program with freshmen staying on campus over the summer to build up a strong base for next season and help foster a stronger team connection.

“That usually results in great success in the NCAA season,” Thomas said. “That’s the hallmark of a top-end Division I program.”

The men’s side enters the season coming off its second-straight Atlantic 10 Championship title, while the women finished third at the conference meet last year.

In previous coaching jobs, like when he served as head coach at St. Bonaventure, Thomas has worked with teams that fielded up to 24 freshmen during a season. Thomas said this year’s freshman class brings diverse training experiences to the pool, and the coaching staff has created individualized training programs so they can level the varying experiences of the incoming class.

“The quality of the athletes coming in versus what they had in the past at GW is a little higher,” Thomas said. “That being said, they’re still 18 years old so they’re still trying to figure a lot of things out and learn on the fly.”

Freshman Dylan Arzoni said he and his fellow rookies have already developed a strong bond in and out of the pool.

“Even some of the upperclassmen said how great we are as a freshman class and they’ve noticed how much we’ve bonded,” Arzoni said. “It’s only been a couple of months, but it’s like we’ve known each other for a long time. That sounds cheesy, but that’s how it is.”

The Manchester, England native moved to Maryland in 2013 to train at North Baltimore Aquatic Club, an elite swim club noted for training Olympian Michael Phelps and other high-profile swimmers.

As a Colonial, Arzoni already has multiple first-place individual finishes under his belt after taking first in the 200-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly events against Howard.

“I’ve learned over the years with freshmen to have some patience,” Thomas said. “It’s easy to forget when we’re in our coaches shoes that this is the biggest transition they’ve had in life so far.”

Originally from Querètaro, Mexico, freshman Andrea Moussier said that one of the biggest challenges in her first year has been adapting to life in a new country. The support system from her fellow freshmen, as well as upperclassmen on the team, has been a factor in helping her adjust to life and athletics at GW, she said.

Even before she moved to campus, Moussier said she got text messages from her teammates welcoming her and offering to help her get settled at GW.

“When we came in, they were really warm and welcoming for us,” Moussier said. “Meets have been great, they support us a lot. They cheer us on a lot.”

Moussier has been a standout performer on the women’s side, receiving the A-10 Rookie of the Week honor three times in the fall schedule. In her collegiate debut in the 1,650-yard freestyle at the Queens University Fall Frenzy earlier this month, Moussier clocked in at 16:47.23 – good for a second-place finish and the fourth fastest time in program history.

The collegiate swimming schedule is a significant uptick in competition for incoming swimmers, both in quality of opponents and number of races.

“The one-day dual meets, I’m not used to that,” Moussier said. “It is challenging but it’s been a learning experience for me that’s been really good.”

The team’s cohesive dynamic is part of what has made the Colonials so successful in the past, Thomas said. Rather than viewing swimming as work, Thomas wants student-athletes to come to the pool every day having fun and enjoying the sport.

Midway through the fall schedule, Thomas said that he’s seen “leaps and bounds” in the level of consistency his first-year swimmers are bringing to the pool. But even with standout swimmers, Thomas and the coaching staff are reserved in their expectations.

“Any wild success that anyone’s having, we pump the breaks and just say, ‘OK great, what’s next?’ And take it a day at a time,” Thomas said. “Or if they’re struggling, same thing. Let’s find a way to get a little more consistent, find a routine that works for you and you’ll be great.”

The Colonials return to action 5 p.m. Friday when women’s swimming and diving hosts Richmond.

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