Melissa (Cole) Kemp has been looking forward to this Friday for the past 28 years or so.
Even while the Western State Colorado University women’s swimming and diving program lay dormant for almost three decades, Kemp and a small contingent of former Mountaineers remained hopeful their team had not seen its final days.
“For those of us who get together, it’s so much fun,” said Kemp, who’s now a resident of Fort Collins. “There’s going to be several of us coming to the meet on Friday.”
Kemp was a member of the women’s swimming and diving team at Western from 1974-78. Back then, the Mountaineers competed with the likes of what are now major NCAA Div. I programs, such as the University of Colorado and Colorado State.
It wasn’t until the 1980-81 season that Western entered the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC). Before a halt was put to the program after the 1983-84 season, the Mountaineers managed to win three of four conference championships and notch two top five finishes in NAIA competition.
Kemp took it upon herself in more recent years to help organize reunions for past Mountaineer swimming and diving team members. In total, she’s compiled a list of more than 70 names that sported Crimson and Slate in the pool from 1972-1984.
“There was a lot of camaraderie with those teams,” Kemp reflected. “We were a close team and we were all in excellent shape.”
More than a few people on her list became ecstatic when Western leaders made the decision to bring back women’s swimming and diving last December. As part of an effort to boost declining enrollment at the university, a new era in the program’s existence was born.
Brad Smith has been brought on to take the helm for the new chapter. He was an assistant coach at the University of Maine for the past three seasons. First among his missions as head coach was to find enough girls to fill a roster in a limited amount of time.
“This first year, it was all about just getting a roster,” said Smith. “I was very fortunate in that little amount of time that we filled the roster with a great group of girls.”
Smith said he left no stone unturned in the process of recruiting. That included sending out countless e-mails and phone calls to high school coaches across the nation, as well as utilizing various online recruiting services.
For freshman Danielle Ginsberg, from Reno, Nev., it was an online recruiting service that introduced her to Western and the Gunnison area for the first time. After considering attending a different school in California, Smith contacted Ginsberg just in time to sway her decision.
“I didn’t even really know about Western until March,” said Ginsberg. “I had almost decided on a school that was really expensive, so it was kind of stressful. Then I really enjoyed my trip out here.
Ginsberg is among 12 true freshmen on the Mountaineers’ roster. Six student-athletes on the roster were already enrolled at Western for the current semester, while two others transferred in from different universities.
Those 20 team members, including three divers, will lead the Mountaineers back into collegiate competition for the 2012-13 season. Western will compete in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, where they are joined by major Division II programs from Grand Canyon (Phoenix, Ariz.) and Incarnate Word (San Antonio, Texas), among others.
It’s a long and grueling season, which will see the Mountaineers compete in nine meets before the postseason. According to Smith, it’s all a build up to the RMAC Championships in Grand Junction, Feb. 23-26.
“It’s all about being creative to keep the girls enthusiastic and engaged,” Smith said. “When you’re looking at a black line for two to four hours a day, mixing things up is an important part of their training.”
It’s also helped to have an avid group of former Mountaineer swimmers, such as Kemp, around to cheer on the cause.