SHENANDOAH, Texas -- The Emory women began their run to national championships in 2010 but the foundation had been laid years before the results produced title-winning hardware. The man with the blueprint: Emory head coach Jon Howell.

The Eagles under Howell have taken home the women’s swimming and diving championship for the last three years and are in pursuit of their fourth in a row. The accomplishments, though, did not come without a little program building.

Howell said since he arrived each subsequent class has upgraded the program and he looks to capitalize on leaders he has on his current squad.

“I think a lot of it is the classes that have come before this year … kind of raised the bar a little bit,” Howell said. “When you have a number of years like that when you have leaders than are pushing things forward, the hope is that you can eventually get to the top. We reap the benefits of a lot of people that have worked really hard to make the program better over the years.”

Emory’s leaders in this season’s NCAA championships have already proven they can push the team to a championship caliber outing. Highlighted by the winning of the women’s 200 freestyle relay in Thursday’s finals, the Eagles still hold a first-place lead heading into the final day of the championships.

Renee Rosencranz, one of three seniors on the 200 freestyle relay, said she was grateful for the way Howell uniquely adapted his training to her style of swimming. 

“I think he looks at the best in people and he pulls it out of them,” Rosencranz said. “Whether you’re someone that fits the mold or someone that needs a completely different training style, he delivers it to you. I was definitely one that needed that individuality and he’s given me that. I’m so thankful for everything he’s given me over the last three years.”

Arriving at Emory in 1998, the 14-year Eagles head coach made his share of coaching pit stops before landing his current gig. A member of the Clemson’s coaching staff during an ACC Championship run, Howell later served as interim head coach at Kenyon to lead them to one of the dynasty’s many national titles. 

Howell said he appreciates his accomplishments and experience gained before landing as the Eagles’ head man.

“I had the opportunity to be a part of an ACC Championship at Clemson and a couple national championships at Kenyon so I’ve had some really wonderful opportunities,” Howell said. “It seems like such a long time ago now; I’ve been here for a while. It was a fun road to get there, that’s for sure.”

This season, however, he will be coaching for the first time without sharing the coaching ranks with one of his greatest mentors – former Kenyon head coach and Division III swimming legend Jim Steen.

Howell admitted while it was likely a well-timed exit for the decorated coach, he said – alongside being a mentor for him – Steen’s impact can still be felt despite his absence.

“He was a huge mentor, I swam for him as an undergrad and had an opportunity to work alongside him,” Howell said. “He is definitely an icon of Division III swimming and it’s a little weird not to have him on deck, but I think for him it was probably a good time for him to move on. He accomplished a lot and the reason the meet is as fast as it is this year is because of him.”