The Making of a Winner
Study closely any work in progress in the corporate world and interesting tidbits pop up: philosophies, routes taken, strategies deployed, personalities involved, and so on.
Sports is really no different from the corporate world. Most often, observers will hear a coach talk about a four-year or a five-year plan leading to a productive situation. “Give me four years,” they often say, “and I'll give you a winner.”
That’s been true with one sport at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW). In only four years, synchronized swimming – synchro for short – has evolved from the coach having to thumbtack flyers across the campus in order to drum up interest in the team to individual team members now thinking about the Olympics.
“That first year, I didn’t have a clue what I was getting in to,” recalled Kim Wurzel Loporto, UIW synchronized swimming coach. “It was a lot harder than I imagined it would be, with all the rules and regulations of collegiate athletics.”
The California native had come to San Antonio to work with the animals at Sea World when the synchro concept was brought to UIW.
“When I came here in the summer of 2001 to begin the synchronized swimming program, I didn't know how to recruit,” said LoPorto. “Plus, it was almost time for the fall semester to begin, which meant it was too late for serious recruiting. So what I did was put up flyers on campus.”
Those flyers resulted in three team members, only one of which had any experience with synchronized swimming. Jennifer Kinnamon was a soccer player who thought it would be neat to compete in synchro. Megan Morton was a dancer but not a swimmer. Fortunately, Kristin Brotherman had been a synchro swimmer, although not since her early youth.
That first year, the heavyweights of the collegiate synchro world volunteered to come to UIW and the sparkling new Ann Barshop Natatorium to compete with the University’s fledgling squad. The intent was to give Incarnate Word a boost in getting off the ground since collegiate varsity teams were desperately needed.
After being swamped in the wakes of powerhouses from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Ohio State University, the Cardinals won their first-ever meet with a victory over Stanford University. That win propelled the team to a 17th place showing at the U.S. Collegiate Championships.
With a year under her belt, LoPorto grasped the recruiting ropes and through her contacts, came up with three transfers and one freshman. All were legitimate swimmers who would form the foundation of a squad that has steadily progressed from that initial 17th place finish to sixth, fifth and this past spring to third in the nation. Boosters of the team will forever remember those swimmers - Jessica Brown, Jennifer Holmquist, Laura Davis and Rebecca Williams.
LoPorto admits that the team’s initial goal was simply to stay “above water.” The team’s success, especially this past season, has altered that goal to now being one of the nation’s elite synchro programs.
“To be third this year was huge,” said LoPorto. “Breaking that barrier and getting into the inner circle was so important. It placed us in the select position of being a team everyone else wants to beat. We now are attracting international athletes.”
LoPorto, who was a member of the fifth-place United States synchro team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics - yes, that was her marching into the Olympic stadium and waving to the cheering masses - says swimmers now recognize Incarnate Word’s elite status. As witness to that, she said the Cardinals are now coming from all over.
Danielle Kramer, who has been a member of the U.S. senior national team for three years, is from Mentor, Ohio. Her next step is a shot at the U.S. Olympic squad. Three-time U.S. Synchro Honorary All-American Jennifer Holmquist finished her eligibility in the spring and received her UIW degree. She was an honorary All-American only because she is from Calgary, Canada. All-American Emily Van Vleck is from Santa Rosa, Calif., while All-American Rachel Simon hails from Safety Harbor, Fla. And All-American Natalie Chase calls Auburn, Washington, home.
“At our first team meeting in August, we talk about a national championship,” said LoPorto. “We don't talk about a conference title or having a winning season,” she continued. “We discuss our national ranking and what it will take to compete at the Olympic level.”
For the 2005-2006 season, the Cardinals return six swimmers – all six are Academic All-Americans – and the coach expects the squad’s size to double with up to six new recruits, even without the benefit of having to post flyers across the campus. The Cardinals have arrived.
At this rate, how long will it be before Incarnate Word has an athlete, or two, or three water-dancing to the music in an Olympic pool?
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