STEUBENVILLE, Ohio  -- Franciscan University of Steubenville’s collegiate athletic opportunities for women are growing this year with the addition of a NCAA Division III women’s swimming and diving team. The team begins its first competitive season this winter with W.Va. native Nathan Blake leading the Lady Barons as head coach.

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Blake

“Prospective female students across the country request the addition of swimming and diving more than any other sport,” said Athletic Director Chris Ledyard. “Therefore, in an effort to add sports that are relevant, women’s swimming and diving is at the top of the list.”

The responses have been positive. The Department of Admissions communicated that female students have already expressed interest in pioneering as an inaugural member of the new Lady Baron sport. This past week marked the official University hiring of Blake as head coach.

“It is such an honor to be joining the Franciscan University family and embarking with them on a very real and tangible mission,” said Blake. “My program, I hope, challenges everyone associated with it to spend time each day sharpening who they are spiritually, academically, and athletically while recognizing that each of those areas affect the other two.”

Coach Blake is a 1998 graduate of Brooke High School in Wellsburg, W.Va., where he swam as a four-year letterman, two-year team captain, a state champion, and a member of the All-State Team his senior year. He was also a member of two record-breaking relays in the 200 free and 400 free events–one of which still stands.

Blake went on to swim at Mt. Union University and Asbury University before longstanding shoulder injuries and exercise induced asthma forced him to leave both teams. Not wanting to leave the sport, Blake immediately began volunteering as a coach at Brooke High School. He then went on to become an assistant and then the head coach of the USS team in Weirton, W.Va. Blake also served as a volunteer coach at Wheeling Park High School in Wheeling.

“Like any other coach who loves what they do, my goal is to have a program that not only competes but that dominates year in and year out,” added Blake.

Minimum participants for the team roster are eight, but the maximum number is uncapped for the team. Ledyard emphasized this as an important detail, noting, “The opportunities are essentially limitless. Swimming is much like track and field because it appeals to such a variety of athletes -- from divers, to distance swimmers, to sprinters.”

The Lady Baron swimming and diving team will use Steubenville High School’s facilities for practicing and competition.