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Springfield College Swimming & Diving Take Second in Both Men’s and Women’s NEWMAC Championships

Jimmy Kelley
Online/Sports Editor

NEWMAC Springfield Swimming and Diving
Clockwise from top: MIchael Normoyle, Pete Avdoulos, Kellie Pennington, Kenny Pancoast and Jen Thompson all took home individual honors.

When all was said and done on Sunday at the 2013 NEWMAC Swimming and Diving Championships in Cambridge, Mass., both the men’s and women’s teams from Springfield College stood behind a board with the No. 2 emblazoned on the front to signify their final standing. The dual second-place finishes made for one of the best finishes in recent years, and capped off one of the more successful years for John Taffe and Pete Avdoulos’ teams.

In addition to the team results, the Pride put their stamp on the event by earning five individual distinctions as well. Avdoulos earned both NEWMAC Men’s and Women’s Diving Coach of the Year for the fourth time, Kellie Pennington won her third-straight Women’s Swimmer of the Year award, Kenny Pancoast repeated as Men’s Diver of the Year, Jen Thompson won her first Women’s Diver of the Year and Michael Normoyle won Men’s Rookie of the Year.

“I do look at [this team] as one of my favorite teams,” Taffe said. “I think as I get older I try to look less on all of the wins and losses or where we finish. It’s more about seeing the people you’re working with improve, get better [and] learn.

“I would say this group overachieved and that makes it fun for myself and the coaches. They made our job very easy, which is what you want.”

Gauging the success of a team in a sport like swimming is a tough task because of the different types of success that a team can experience. Between invitationals and dual meets, individual victories and team victories, finding the true mark of a successful season is a tough task for anyone, but Taffe and Avdoulos seem to have settled on similar definitions.

“It’s not about any awards, it’s not about any championships, [and] it’s not about how many points we contributed,” Avdoulos said. “It’s about the kids leaving happy and feeling to the point where they say, ‘I can’t believe I did that.’”

Whether or not the awards or championships matter to the coaches, the excitement of being the best is not lost on the athletes. Competing in his first season of collegiate swimming has given Normoyle a lasting memory of three days where he broke three school records and earned SC’s first Rookie of the Year award.

The first record the Western Mass. native took down was the longest-standing school record. Larry Jordan’s 29-year-old mark of 1:53.27 in the 200-yard individual medley (IM) became Normoyle’s when he touched the wall just nine hundredths of a second ahead of the pace.

“My goals really at the beginning of the meet were just to set the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke record, never mind win an event which was possible, but I didn’t really see happening – never mind two [events],” said Normoyle, who broke those records as well. “Setting the NEWMAC meet and open records were just an extra bonus and Rookie of the Year was just beyond my expectations.”

Normoyle’s time of 2:02.20 in the 200-yard breaststroke shattered the previous school record by six seconds and earned him an automatic spot in the NCAA Division III Championships in Shenadoah, Texas from March 20-23.

The freshman also set the 100-yard breaststroke record and his time of 56.47 was good enough to give him a secure NCAA B-cut qualifying time.

“When I set the first B-cut on Friday night it was going to be tough to say I was going to get in,” Normoyle said. “Setting the A-cut automatically on Sunday was a really good feeling because I knew I wasn’t going to have to wait for any answers.”

In addition to Normoyle, Pennington will also be headed to the national meet, but this time as a defending national champion in the 50-yard freestyle. Pennington reached an A-cut in that event with her 23.29 time on Nov. 30, while also hitting a B-cut in the 100-yard freestyle in the same event.

Pancoast and Thompson will need to compete in the Division III Diving Regional Championships on March 1-2 right here at Springfield College for a chance to make return trips to the national stage. Thompson earned All-American honors last year with her third-place finish, while Pancoast earned his with an 11th place finish.

“If I dive the way I dove at NEWMACs I should be OK to go on to the national level,” Pancoast said. “As the season progressed I became more and more comfortable with my dives and at NEWMACs I was able to accomplish exactly what I wanted to [up] to this point.”

Pancoast continued a recent tradition of SC divers with his second-straight Diver of the Year award. 2013 marked the sixth straight year a Pride diver has won the award, and the 10th in the 13-year history of the award.

With such a high-level of success, it’s surprising how diverse the backgrounds of Avdoulos’ divers have been.

“I try to read people and see what motivates them and see how they need to be pushed or not pushed. I don’t try to get my divers to do the same thing. [I] treat them as individuals. We’ve established a program that has good divers and attracts other aspiring divers and prospective student-athletes.”

Avdoulos has coached former gymnasts, soccer players, wrestlers and even a few football players who, through a willingness to work, were able to achieve great success.

That is what made this season such a great one for the Pride. Their willingness to work led them to achieve everything they did and make the 2012-13 season one the coaches won’t soon forget.

“If I could put it in a bottle and have every single year be just like this, then that would be great,” Taffe said. “But this was one of the top two, top three teams I can ever remember working with.”

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