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Happy Swimmers, Fast Swimmers

New coach emphasizes hard work—and fun—and brings success

Matt Riley

Early this season, new UVA swimming and diving head coach Todd DeSorbo summed up the commitment he desired from his athletes in a two-word mantra: “All day.”

“If they want to be elite and perform at a certain level, they have to think about it all day, not just during those two hours in the pool,” DeSorbo says. “They have to eat right, hydrate, recover, do well in school, make good decisions. You have to act like a champion in life before you can be a champion in the pool.”

The team adopted that mantra—and several of DeSorbo’s other phrases of inspiration, including “reckless abandon”—and has achieved impressive results.

This was DeSorbo’s first season at Virginia and first as a head coach, having spent six seasons as an associate head coach at N.C. State. Still, he led the UVA women’s team to its 10th ACC Championship in 11 years (redemption for last year’s conference title loss to the Wolfpack) and to an impressive 9th-place finish at the NCAAs in mid-March, besting a 12th-place finish last year.

When DeSorbo arrived in Charlottesville last August with his staff, they immediately worked to get to know the athletes and learn about their interests outside the pool.

“We trusted him 100 percent from the beginning,” fourth-year swimmer CeCe Williams (Col ’18) says. DeSorbo’s style emphasizes fun, relationship building and being true to yourself, and he frequently has his team loose and laughing. Simultaneously, he commands dedication to all aspects of student-athlete life.

Matt Riley

While he and his staff have continued UVA swimming’s traditions, including jumping into the hot tub if they win and singing “The Good Old Song,” they’ve also established their own. Before each home meet, the men’s and women’s teams gather in a large room adjacent to the pool. Turning the lights off and using speakers with attached strobe lights, the swimmers and coaches blast upbeat music, dancing and singing together. Then the coaches give a motivational speech.

“[Those speeches] definitely make us swim fast,” Williams says. “In the past, it’s been very stressful, but now it’s just fun.”

That environment has produced not only great team results but also individual records this season. Caitlin Cooper (Col ’18) also won the 50m freestyle at the ACC Championships, setting a meet record, and was a member of the first-place 200m freestyle relay team at the tournament.

“A happy swimmer is a fast swimmer, they always say, and that’s been really evident this year,” Cooper says. “I know I’ve had the most fun I’ve had in my past four years at UVA.”