Combined program pays dividends

Minnesota is in its fourth season as a combined men’s and women’s program.

Betsy Helfand

Four years ago, former Gophers athletics director Joel Maturi made the decision to combine the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams — a move that has paid dividends for the program.

“A lot of the best programs in the country are combined, and for us, it’s just a utilization of more resources and having a chance really to streamline our organization,” head men’s and women’s coach Kelly Kremer said. “It’s a decision that we’re really happy … was made back then.”

The combined program makes for an interesting dynamic, as men’s and women’s swimmers and divers are practicing side by side and competing at meets together.

“This year, I’ve … heard comments from both the men’s and women’s student-athletes that they’ve never felt more together than we are right now,” Kremer said. “They definitely play off each other and use each other to get better and enjoy the [sports] of swimming and diving.”

Junior diver Manny Pollard said the team has been doing more events and having more meetings so they can all get on the same page.

“It’s not new, but it’s evolved over the years that I’ve been here,” he said.

Boys’ and girls’ high school swimming and diving teams compete during different seasons, so the concept of a combined team isn’t feasible at lower levels.

“We just happened to be doing the same sport at the same school but at different times,” Pollard said.

He said he likes the combined system a lot better, and it’s one that many college teams have adopted.

At this point, Kremer said he thinks there are more combined programs in the Big Ten than separate.

Combined programs afford the opportunity to hire an additional full-time coach, an incentive to transition to the system.

With two separate programs, schools can hire two women’s coaches, two men’s coaches and a diving coach. The Gophers have benefited from combining their teams and having an extra coach.

“It really gives you more resources than if you have separate programs, and so it really was a way to best utilize our resources,” Kremer said.

Minnesota added assistant coach Gideon Louw to its staff this summer, filling a vacant coaching position, and switched Terry Ganley’s title from head women’s coach to senior associate head coach.

But the change in title doesn’t necessarily mean a change in duties.

“I think really the title just has changed to reflect what I’ve been doing for the past three years,” Ganley said. “Being a combined program, I work with the men. I help really in all aspects of the program.”

Ganley said the combined program creates a more “cooperative environment.”

“Before, you had each team kind of just competing for themselves, and now you’ve got another group of 30 [teammates] supporting each other, so of course that helps,” she said.