St. Francis de Sales opened the season with its third swimming coach in three years.
Former University of Toledo swimmer Brent Ransom took over the reigns just before the start of the new year. It’s his first head coaching job.
“It’s like my second high school,” said Ransom, 36, a Chicago native who spent plenty of hours in St. Francis’ Natatorium during his time at UT (1995-99).
Ransom, who has spent the past decade coaching in the Cincinnati area, had remained in contact with people associated with the St. Francis program. A few of the Knights have known him since they were in grade school and learning how to swim. Ransom participated with the Greater Toledo Aquatic Club during summer months while attending UT.
Jack DiSalle, a senior, is among those who knew Ransom before he replaced Tony Kurth, a 1999 St. Francis graduate who had replaced longtime coach Keith Kennedy and held the position for only one year.
“I’ve known him before he got here,” DiSalle said. “He’s kind of like a family friend. It’s nice to have him as a coach and have him back here in Toledo.”
So far, the Knights haven’t missed a beat under Ransom. They claimed their third straight Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship last weekend and did it by placing first in all events except for the final relay. They also went undefeated during the season in dual meets.
A second coaching change in as many years hasn’t altered the Knights’ vision and goals. Pursuit of being No. 1 remains the game plan for a Knights team that placed fourth in the Division I state meet a year ago.
“It’s the same philosophy but a different approach,” Ransom said. “You have to work hard. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I know what they’re doing down at St. X [reigning state champion Cincinnati St. Xavier], they’re working their butts off.”
Knight senior co-captain Jack Barone, who placed second at state in the 100-yard breaststroke last season, is looking to finish out his high school career on a high note. He finished first at the TRAC championships in the 100-yard breaststroke with a meet-record time of 59.97, but admits the coaching carousel has been challenging at times.
Yet he thinks the Knights have become more comfortable with their present coach.
“It’s tough no matter what the situation is,” Barone said. “My freshman and sophomore year we had a coach where we had a lot of stability in that position because he’d been there for the last 10 years, so everybody was used to that system. Last year we definitely changed it up a bit with a new coach. I don’t know if it was the right fit and a change was made.
“Now we have Brent and everyone is enjoying him. It’s like everyone is just going with the system and everybody believes in the system.”
Kurth’s coaching style was considered by some swimmers last season as more demanding than Kennedy’s approach. They spent more time outside of the pool training with weights and running than in previous seasons.
Ransom’s style could be compared more like Kennedy’s than Kurth’s. He got his start coaching with Kennedy and Chris Wolford in the GTAC from 1998 to 2002. He’s spent time in Cincinnati coaching club teams, as well as time serving as an assistant at Xavier University.
With his arrival at St. Francis, there’s been more emphasis on enjoying the entire experience — training, practices, and competitions.
“As a team, we try to stay as relaxed as possible because swimming is a hard sport,” Ransom said. “If you take it too seriously it’ll drive you crazy.”
Yet there is a difference to Ransom’s coaching method compared to recent coaches.
“He seems to focus more on specialties whereas the other coaches [worked] everyone together,” DiSalle said. “I like how it’s specialized for everyone.”
Swimmers train together based upon their events. Distance swimmers work out with distance swimmers, backstroke swimmers are paired with other backstroke swimmers. They’re coached technique-wise based upon the particular events.
DiSalle and Christian Sobczak won two individual events apiece at the TRAC championships to lead the Knights in their final regular-season competition before a Division I sectional meet Feb. 8 at Napoleon.
DiSalle proved tough in the freestyle races, winning the 100 (47.66 seconds) and 200 (1 minute, 46.93 seconds) with meet record times. Sobczak swept the 100 backstroke (53.51) and 200 individual medley (1:57.51) with meet records.
Nick Brodie, a third-place finisher at state last season in the 50 freestyle, won the TRAC championship in that event with a meet record of 21.05. Ben Gordon (100 butterfly, 53.12) and Aaron Borgman (500 free, 4:47.73) were also individual winners while posting meet records.
“We’re more mature and everyone is going a lot faster than last year,” said DiSalle, who lists Ohio State, Indiana, and Kentucky as possible colleges to continue his swimming career next fall.
St. Francis has won four state championships, but the last one came in 1998. With only one member from last year’s fourth-place team lost to graduation, Ransom, who was competing for UT at the time of last state title, has expectations for making a push for No. 1 at this year’s state tournament set for Feb. 19-22.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Ransom said. “We have nothing to lose.”