MANSFIELD, Texas – Speed.
It’s what every swimmer wants — to turn the fastest lap, to beat yesterday’s time or finish first in the race.
Speed is also a buzzword around the decks and pools of Nova Southeastern’s swimming and diving program. Things move fast at the Ft. Lauderdale-based school, how else can you explain building a national contender in less than 800 days?
The Sharks’ program is only two years old. Each year of the program’s existence, it has competed in the Division II Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships. The woman who is in charge of this championship-caliber program is no stranger to winning.
The international students are an important part of NSU’s program and Bonewit-Cron says their impact cannot be overlooked.
Hollie Bonewit-Cron is in her second year as head coach of Nova Southeastern. She’s also a member of an exclusive sorority — a female head coach of both the men’s and women’s teams at a NCAA program. By her count, the number can be as low as two and high as six, depending on the year.
She brings her experience as a former Division I student-athlete and Division I coach to the program. Bonewit-Cron was All-American swimmer at Ohio. During her four-year career with the Bobcats, she earned four varsity letters, set several school records and earned a trip to the 2000 Olympic Trials. She has a dozen years of collegiate coaching under her belt. Her coaching stops include Miami (Fla.), Georgia Southern and Florida.
She spent six years in Gainesville as an assistant coach for the men’s and women’s team, before agreeing to lead Nova Southeastern. During her final season with the Gators in 2008, the women’s team finished sixth, and the men’s claimed eighth at the NCAA Division I Championships. Under her guidance, eight Gators — one American and seven international swimmers — earned spots on their respective 2004 Olympic teams. In the Athens Games, her former athletes earned one gold medal and one silver medal.
While starting a program from scratch is never easy, one thing working to Bonewit-Cron’s advantage is the NSU Aquatic Complex. The $7 million center is a state-of-the-art facility that boasts an Olympic size pool and diving well.
“When I showed up on campus, I was stunned,” Bonewit-Cron said of her initial visit. “I tried to look at the university through the eyes of a recruit. I saw the Don Taft University Center and then went over to the pool, and by that point, I was sold. I felt confident a successful swim program could be built here.”
A challenge facing the program was recruiting potential student-athletes to a team that had no history.
“I started nationally and looked a bit internationally,” she said when asked about her recruiting strategy. “We like to look in our own backyard in Florida and branch out from there. We bring in a lot of kids that are homegrown, but we also look across the pond.”
There are 15 international students who dot the Sharks’ roster, nine men and six women.
“Swimming is like mathematics — you speak the same language in the pool,” she said. “I fully welcome bridging the gap between the two cultures. It’s not like we are having German dinners or Swedish breakfasts. We like to learn about their cultures but ultimately we do Americanize them and teach them what it means to be a Nova Shark and to compete at this level.”
“The international students have been huge for the program. Overall our international flare has brought our program to another level because of the international experience those players bring to the team.”
Bonewit-Cron is quick to admit her first two seasons as head coach have exceeded her expectations.
“Initially I just wanted to develop a team that the school could be proud of and compete at the conference level and ultimately qualify for nationals,” she said. “I had bigger dreams and goals. They came a lot sooner that what I planned out for.”
During the program’s inaugural season, the Sharks placed six swimmers at the national championships, the NSU men picked up a total of 121 points and finished 13th out of 30. On the women’s side, only two Shark women competed earning a total of 47 points and finished 20th out of 38 teams.
|2012 DIVISION II CHAMPIONSHIPS|
|Day One Results|
|Full Replays: Men Women|
|Feature: Nova Southeastern makes waves|
“For our first year, to finish 13th and 20th for the men and women in the nation was huge,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier with how we performed last year.”
Nova Southeastern sent a combined 19 student-athletes to Mansfield, including 12 on the men’s side, putting them behind only behind Drury, UC San Diego and Incarnate Word, all with 14 swimmers to this year’s event. But it’s the improvement of the women’s team that has Bonewit-Cron excited about the finals.
“Our women’s program in general is just going to be that much better. Last year we had two women, this year we have seven. They are ready to go; they are excited to put relays together. We have some veterans coming back. Our seniors without a doubt are the ones I’m looking for to make that impact and lead this team.”
Nova Southeastern has become a Division II powerhouse in only two years. But while Bonewit-Cron’s squad is still chasing an overall team championship, she expects the Sharks to experience a strong week at the pool.
“A successful week would be to place higher than we did last year on both the men and the women,” she said before the start of the day one finals.
Another goal for the Sharks Bonewit-Cron said is to see how many top-eight performers the team can produce. Any student-athlete who finishes in the top eight of an event earns All-America status.
On day one, Nova Southeastern’s Oskar Nordstrand finished fourth in the men’s 1,000-yard freestyle and Armin Hornikel finished seventh in the men’s 50-yard freestyle.
Overall, the men’s team is in tied for ninth place through nine events and the women’s team is in 17th place through eight events.