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.”