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Former Olympic Swimmer Aims To Rebuild Ohio’s Swimming & Diving Program

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The new head coach of the Ohio University Swimming and Diving team wants to make sure every minute in the weight room can be applied to the water.

“One of the things I always preach is I don’t really care how much weight your lifting if that doesn’t transfer into getting you off the block faster or having a stronger stroke.”

Quality over quantity has been a consistent theme in the life of the new head coach, Rachel Komisarz-Baugh.  

Komisarz-Baugh’s gymnastics career came to a halt when she fractured two vertebrae in her back. After a long recovery, she was able to walk again and wanted to get back into athletics. When she asked her doctor what sports she could play, there was only one.

“They basically told me the only sport I would be allowed to do is swimming.” Later Komisarz-Baugh explains how “at the time [I was] a little bit afraid of the water …  so I had to overcome some of the fears of that but really loved to compete, so I was really just going to do whatever it took to compete again.”

With her athletic decision for her future already made, Komisarz-Baugh made the best of her opportunity. She joined the Warren-Mott High School swim team and quickly became a superstar in both swimming and diving.

She recalls swimming “a little bit” her junior year placing 26th in diving. More importantly, she placed 6th in the 100 butterfly. “I thought hmmm this might be a little bit of a wake up call”, she said. “I think I might be a better swimmer.” This realization caused her to focus on swimming her senior year.

Her switch to full-time swimming paid off. She went on to swim at the University of Kentucky, where she was a three-time SEC champion and seven-time All-American. 

In 2001, she competed for the United States in the World University games and earned a medal in each of her five events. The stellar performance prompted a contract with Speedo, “I really was just planning on swimming for one more year after college,” she said. “I just thought I still [had] more.”

Many of the sports’ current dominant stars, such as Missy Franklin and Katy Ledecky, have been swimming all their lives, but haven’t turned professional yet. Komisarz-Baugh did just that after just 10 years in the sport.

“I never really realized that your swimming career is not supposed to go like that … I was still pretty fresh and this was exciting and new and I was enjoying my time in the pool.”

She reached the pinnacle of her career when she brought home a gold and silver medal as a part of the U.S. Olympic team in 2004. Her time on the swimming scene was shorter than most of her caliber, but she surely made the best of it earning 23 international medals in just seven years of international competition. 

Now after 5 years at the University of Louisville, Komisarz-Buagh came to Athens with a unique coaching style, a reputation as one of the best recruiters in the country and experience that few coaches can provide, “I really like studying athletes and bringing my experience as an athlete into relaying that over into my coaching.”

Her coaching style, new to the Bobcats, is one way she plans to help turn this program around. 

College-level swim programs typically ramp up the yardage in the pool and the volume of the dry-land workouts compared to what its athletes had before coming to the program.

Komisarz-Baugh’s training method focuses on less volume, but higher intensity, “the intensity of my workouts are probably a little bit more than what they’ve experienced before,” she said. “I’m not a big yardage-based coach.”

The majority of practice time is spent swimming with high effort.  Athletes are often told by coaches that they’ll perform in competition how they do in practice. Komisarz-Baugh’s training method embodies this staple of coaching, “everything that we do has got the focus of what you want to do when you’re racing.” 

Junior distance specialist Bianca Hauzer’s workouts have been altered significantly. “I used to train a lot of distance, over 1000 yards straight,” she said. “Now I’ll do like 100 yards but a lot of repetitions of that. I feel like it better prepares me for the race … [it] focus[es] on what I need to get through [in] that race.”

Training for distance events is difficult because it’s hard to repetitively sprint when your tired in a practice, so this new training method is music to Hauzer’s ears. “I’ve been winning so I’m not complaining.”

The quality over quantity method is familiar to some swimmers, especially those that specialize in shorter, sprint events. 

Junior Haley Clark has already enjoyed the potential benefits of this training method. “In the first few weeks of practice, I was going faster times than I’ve ever gone in my life, which is really unusual for swimming,” she said. She implemented a lot of sprinting and strength and since I’m a sprinter that’s what I need.”

Nov. 20 marks the start of the H2Okie Inivtational. This meet, hosted by Virginia Tech, is a fast, early-season meet for the Bobcats. Komisarz-Baugh is going to taper many of her swimmers for the meet. “We’re going to rest and we’re going to suit up,” she said. “I want to see how they’re reacting to my type of training.”

A new training method isn’t the only new, unique thing the new head coach brings. She delivers feedback throughout practice. “Everytime they come to the wall, even if it’s for five seconds, that’s an opportunity for some feedback,“ she said. “Wednesday and Friday, we do designate those as technique days, so that kind of digs a little bit deeper.”

The sport of swimming is all about small details that make differences of hundredths of seconds. Komisarz-Baugh recognizes the importance of this. 

“Shes a lot more technique based than any coach I’ve ever had in my life,” Hauzer said. “She’s revamped my whole race.” This revamping led to Bianca recording her best time in her career at Ohio in the season-opener against Ohio State. 

Komisarz-Baugh aims to improve her athletes’ technique in many ways. “Every turn they do, every start they do, every stroke they take I’m watching,” she said. “And I’m going to give them feedback.” Every race is filmed and reviewed to perform race and stroke analysis. 

The new head coach even uses her experience as an athlete to fix technique. “This generation of athletes is a little bit more visual,” she explained. “So if I can’t find a video or something to show them what I’m talking about I like to get in and show them myself what I’m talking about.”

The team enjoys having a coach with such a rich history in the sport.  “She has all the background you’d ever want from a coach,” Hauzer said.