Xavier Magazine

Double Dip

Head coach Brent MacDonald led men’s swimming to back-to-back victories as Big East Conference champions this year after clinching the title last year during Xavier’s first season in the new conference. The wins mark not just Big East firsts for Xavier but are also the swim program’s first conference title wins ever.
The benefits are huge. “When you win two years in a row, it begins to show sustained success to potential recruits,” he says.
MacDonald was also honored as Big East Coach of the Year this year, tying with Jamie Holder of Georgetown. This is another repeat for Xavier as MacDonald won not only the 2014 Big East Coach of the Year, but was similarly honored in the last year of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
MacDonald joined Xavier as assistant coach in 2006. He was named interim head coach in 2008 and head coach in 2009. His swimmers have won awards such as Rookie of the Year and Most Outstanding Performance, fostering expectations of a three-peat in the Big East next year.

Xavier Magazine

Beasts of the Big East

No one knew what moving to the Big East Conference would mean for Xavier’s athletic teams. Could the teams—especially some of the non-spotlight teams—compete at this higher level? Or would they be overwhelmed and become an anchor at the bottom of the standings?

The answer came in February from an unlikely source: the men’s swim team.

The team delivered the University its first Big East Championship—this from a team that never won a conference title. Ever.

Senior Chad Thompson earned six gold medals and was named the Big East Most Outstanding Performer, while fourth-year head coach Brent MacDonald was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading Xavier to the championship.

Xavier Magazine

Making a Splash

Bethanie Griffin’s success isn’t singular among the Musketeers. Xavier swimming has been lapping up victories recently—thanks to solid training, talented new recruits and what head coach Brent MacDonald considers the right blend of individual attention and team spirit.

The team’s family atmosphere begins on Day One. “When they walk on campus as freshmen, they pretty much automatically have 40 new friends,” MacDonald says, which is markedly different from his own college memories. “I remember friends going to college who barely knew their roommate.”

With 40 total swimmers, Xavier’s program is smaller than most other universities, and more inclusive. “Everyone who is on the team is a part of the team,” MacDonald says. There is no traveling squad of elite swimmers; the whole team practices, travels and competes together.

The season begins with the fall semester, and ends at the A-10 championship meet in February. The team practices almost every day in between, and for eight days over the Christmas break, they are in Florida for intensive training. “You get a chance to swim

outside,” MacDonald says. “The weather’s nice. You can put a lot more stress on your body.”

Good team dynamics are important, but swimming is often a solitary sport, and Xavier’s coaches help each swimmer develop individually. “At our level, you’re not getting the same kid over and over again,” says MacDonald, who has been coaching at Xavier since 2007 and head coach since 2008. “Every swimmer is different.” The individual attention has paid off—under MacDonald’s, tutelage Xavier swimmers have broken every school record except the men’s 50-yard freestyle.

MacDonald says recruiting new swimmers is made easy by the welcoming nature of the squad. “Once they get on campus, our student-athletes do a great job of showing them what it’s like to be a part of a team,” he says.

Xavier’s swimmers also shine in the classroom. “How they compete is important, but it’s also important that at the end of four years, they’re ready to graduate and get a job,” says MacDonald. As a result, the men’s and women’s collective GPAs are high, and Xavier is a regular recipient of the Team Scholar All-American award from the College Swimming Coaches Association of America.

Given the team’s past success, the future looks rosy for MacDonald. “We have a lot of young talent on our team, especially on the women’s side,” he says. “We’re poised to take the next step and get a lot faster this year.”

Xavier Magazine

Kicking and Cooking

When Bethanie Griffin joined her high school swim team in Nebraska, she set herself a brash goal—to beat her father’s best time for the 100-yard butterfly, 56.68 seconds. “I didn’t give it much thought,” she admits. “Guys’ times are fast.” Little did she know, she would chase that challenge for the next six years.

She didn’t beat it in high school, but she did lead her team to victory in the 400-yard freestyle relay at the Nebraska state championships in her senior year. “It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life,” she says.

Griffin could’ve hung up her goggles then and there, but she wasn’t finished yet. “I got out of the water and said, ‘I can’t give this feeling up.’ I decided that I wanted to swim in college.”

Griffin visited Xavier and met the swim team. She loved campus and the team felt like a family. When she won a St. Francis Xavier scholarship—full tuition, room and board—her decision was made. “All of the pieces just fell together,” she says. She joined the Musketeers as a freshman walk-on, impressing her coaches with her work ethic and speed. “I’m definitely a sprinter,” she says. “I don’t have the stamina to do much more than 100 yards.”

For most of the year, Griffin was up before the sun six days a week, lifting weights or swimming laps. She came back in the afternoon for more training. “It’s a massive time commitment,” she says. Her only day off was Sunday. “It was the one day a week I didn’t have to set an alarm,” she says. “Sundays were wonderful.”

It was also her day to catch up on her studying. She was majoring in biology, with minors in math and chemistry. “I’m a math and science kind of girl,” she says. She had already completed college coursework in chemistry and calculus before she even got to Xavier.

When she wasn’t in the pool or the science lab, Griffin was in the kitchen, pursuing her other passion—cooking. “My mom and I have been cooking together since I was really young,” she says. She loves baking most of all, a discipline that demands a scientist’s attention to detail. “It’s like a giant, tasty chemistry experiment every time.”

Griffin’s teammates enjoyed the fruits of her hobby at potluck brunches after Saturday morning practices. “I would make this egg bake, with sausage and cheese and different spices,” she says. “It was a massive hit every time. I’d never seen some of my teammates move as quickly as when I brought the dish that last time.”

The team ate Thanksgiving dinner together, too, assigning different dishes to each class. In her senior year, Griffin brought the turkeys—two of them, “because we’re swimmers, and we eat a lot.” She roasted the birds to a golden perfection, with butter, herbs and salt stuffed under their skins to keep them moist.

Meanwhile, Griffin was making a splash in the pool. She broke Xavier’s 50-yard freestyle record, and swam on four record-breaking relay teams. And in her sophomore year, she finally beat her father’s 100-yard butterfly time, breaking the Xavier record in the process. It took her 56.13 seconds. “I didn’t even have to look at the clock to know that I got it because I could hear my teammates cheering so loudly,” she says. “There is nothing quite like that moment when you achieve a long-term goal.”

“She was a great competitor,” says Xavier swimming coach Brent MacDonald. “That was a great swim for her and very fast. That would still beat a lot of guys today.”

A scientist and a foodie at heart, Griffin wanted to do something “with meaning and use” after she graduated last year. She decided on culinary school, back in her hometown, Omaha. She’ll spend the next year and a half honing her skills in the kitchen. Then she plans to go to grad school to get her master’s in food science, with the hope of landing a job researching food preservation, or special diets.

“I love being in a kitchen,” Griffin says, “but I don’t really want a bakery. The hours are crazy. If I can work in a lab, I still get to play with the food, and tie in the science and have a life, which is something I’m looking forward to having again.”

Her feet aren’t entirely on dry land, however. Griffin is also back at her old high school, as a volunteer coach for the swim team, helping younger girls reach goals of their own.

Xavier Magazine

Sport Smart

The Xavier swim teams are cool in the pool and hot in the classroom. Both the men’s and women’s teams were named to the Scholar All America Team by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America, the men earning a No. 19 ranking with a 3.26 team GPA, while the women’s team ranked No. 75 with a 3.22 team GPA.

The women’s golf team, meanwhile, was ranked 17th in the nation for highest team GPA by the National Golf Coaches Association. Xavier’s eight team members had an average GPA of 3.66.