Together as One
Feb. 5, 2007
The Minnesota women's swimming and diving team is capping off an impressive season from a year ago. They finished runner up to Penn State at the Big Ten Championships and left the tournament with three conference titles, eight new school records, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in Yuen Kobayashi and more than one Coach of the Year recipient.
More than one? Yes.
Co-head coaches Kelly Kremer and Terry Nieszner were dually honored by the Big Ten, marking the first time in conference history two head coaches from the same team share the award.
The No. 21-ranked Gophers have a very unique quality about them that no other team can boast. They are not led by a traditional coaching staff of one head coach with an assistant; rather they have two head coaches that share the responsibility of making the team a success.
The coaches began this joint venture when former head coach Jean Freeman stepped down from her reign in 2004 after 31 years of service. When it came time to replace the four-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi was fortunate to have had many worthy candidates, including Nieszner and Kremer.
After serving as the assistant coach to the women's team for 27 years, Nieszner was immediately named interim head coach upon Freeman's retirement. Similar to her predecessor, she was a Minnesota graduate and former member of the swimming and diving team herself.
"Terry was our first All-American under Jean and a long-time assistant," Maturi said. "I loved the experience our student-athletes were having and wanted that to continue. Terry was going to provide that."
During Nieszner's tenure as assistant coach, Minnesota won back-to-back Big Ten Championships in 1999 and 2000 and had over 200 All-America honors. She served as coach to Minnesota greats Diane Wallner (6-time All-American), Terri Jashinsky (10-time All-American), and Gretchen Hegener (12-time All-American and American record holder). While all the successes are memorable, Nieszner notes that it's the experience of being around the student-athlete that is most enjoyable for her.
"There is enjoyment when a kid gets an unexpected performance at the end of the year," she said. "They'll come back and thank you for the experience and a wonderful time in their life. That is just as memorable for me as an individual win, an NCAA Championship or setting an American record."
In order to provide their team with the best possible student-athlete experience, the co-head coaches have tended toward the responsibilities that are stronger suits for each. Both Nieszner and Kremer noted how lucky they are and how well they cover each others strengths and weaknesses.
"The strong point has been that we both feel equally responsible for the success and well being of one team," shared Kremer.
Nieszner echoed those comments.
"We work together and are here for the good of this program, which I think is a key factor in us working together successfully."
While Nieszner centers her coaching on the sprinters, Kremer mentors the distance swimmers, which he has quite a bit of experience with.
Kremer came to the women's squad after spending six seasons as an assistant with the successful men's program. During his tenure with the men, the Gophers won three Big Ten Championship in 2001, 2002 and again in 2004, not to mention a bevy of individual NCAA awards. Kremer also served as coach to Canadian Olympian Mike Brown, 15-time All-American Jeff Hackler and Justin Mortimer, one of many swimmers to have represented the United States in international competition. Kremer also spent time coaching with the well-known Mission Viejo Nadadores swimming program from 1995-1998.
Having coached mostly men throughout his career, Kremer faced the challenge of making the switch to teaching women.
"The most difficult part of the transition was not being able to continue coaching the swimmers I had already coached and recruited here to Minnesota," he said. "Although now I have been very fortunate to work with truly elite athletes on the women's side. Gender plays no role in how excited I get when our athletes accomplish something extraordinary."
Sounding quite similar to Nieszner, it seems that Kremer's feeling represents that of most coaches.
"When everything is said and done, all of us who teach and coach, regardless of our title, are simply working with student-athletes and helping them to grow as people," he said.
This desire to provide student-athletes with the best possible experience was one of the key components when Maturi considered his future head coach.
"Kelley was known as an outstanding recruiter for our successful men's team and after interviewing both, I believed they would make a perfect team," noted Maturi. "It is working out very well."
The recruiting aspect is one that is definitely working out very well. Through Kremer's ties to the Mission Viejo program, the coaches were able to successfully recruit Minnesota standout Yuen Kobayashi.
A native of Osaka, Japan, Yuen had come to America during her senior year to train with the Nadadores.
"My parents always wanted me to go to college outside of Japan, specifically in America," said Yuen. "I was hesitant, but eventually decided I should do it."
While training with Mission Viejo, under coach Bill Rose, and considering offers from swimming powerhouses USC and UCLA, Yuen was familiar with Kremer and the program. Kremer was able to bring Yuen in for a recruiting trip and convince her father that she and Minnesota would make a great fit.
He was right.
"I took the trip to Minnesota and loved it," she said. "I was nervous since I couldn't speak much English, but the swimmers were so nice," said Yuen.
Yuen is now in her sophomore campaign and already boasts an impressive resume. As a freshman, she was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, while earning first-team All-Big Ten and All-America honors in her freestyle events. She also established four schools records and was voted the team's most valuable swimmer. She closed out the year with an appearance at the NCAA Championships.
While one might assume it is difficult being far away from home, Yuen notes that the distance is making her more independent, which she likes.
"I enjoy it. I am meeting new people and don't have to rely on my parents," she said. "I am learning to do a lot by myself."
And for Yuen and her Gopher teammates, having a male and female head coach is much like having another set of parents.
"The girls will sometimes try to play it off like we are a Mom and Dad," Nieszner said. "But there is that respect line and we will call them out if they are not meeting our expectations."
The coaches have maintained this balance and relationship with their swimmers and divers throughout the season and will rely on the respect and "one team" attitude they have instilled in their team to take them to the top.
"The common guiding principle that seems to bind our program has been encouraging and developing a mutual respect among all members of our team, student-athletes, staff and supporters alike," stated Kremer.
The Golden Gophers have less than one week to tidy up their surroundings as they welcome visitors to the University Aquatic Center this weekend for the 2007 Big Ten Women's Swimming and Diving Championships.
And they have another chore to do as well.
Win a championship for the family. Together as one.