GENEVA, Ohio -- The meet was somewhere in Texas one year, and members of an NCAA Division II women’s swim team didn’t know that anybody else was close enough to hear.
The gist of their discussion was simple enough to understand. Just as long as somebody – anybody – beat the Panthers of Drury, they were going to be happy. That’s the kind of thing that happens when a school has enjoyed the kind of domination that Drury has for more than a decade now.
Really, the numbers don’t lie. Drury’s men’s team has taken the past nine – yes, nine – DII swimming national championships, while the women’s squad has captured four of the past five. Had it not been for a one-point loss to Wayne State (Mich.) in 2012, Drury would have swept both the men’s and women’s national championships in each of the past five years.
“They didn’t ask her where she was from,” said Brian Reynolds, who is in his 31st year as the men’s swim coach at Drury and 26th as the women’s. “She saw them the next two or three days, and she was really nice to them. Later, they came up and said, ‘Man, you’re really nice. We forgot to ask you where you’re from.’”
Well … I swim at Drury.
The other young women found out that Drury wasn't some sort of evil empire after all, but the school is undeniably successful. Reynolds has an astounding 20 championships to his credit at Drury -- 11 men's and nine women's.
Only three other coaches at any level of NCAA competition in any sport have more consecutive championships to their credit than Reynolds’ nine in DII men’s swimming, and only one has as many. Yet the most obvious question might well be the most difficult to answer.
What’s the secret to his success?
“I think the kids buy into the fact that they’re responsible for themselves, for their teammates, for the school and the alumni,” Reynolds said. “When we combine the things that we do in training, the way we take care of ourselves, all these ingredients come together as one.”
If success comes as the result of any number of different factors, there is one common denominator that stands out for Reynolds, the national coach of the year last year in both men’s and women’s competition.
“If I were to say the one thing that stands out amongst our team is their work effort on a daily basis,” he continued. “I’ve got a lot of kids who really know how to work, how to train and how to immerse themselves in the work ethic day in and day out, grindings the yards and putting in the time and the daily effort.
“As long as they’ve worked, I would hope that when we walk in on deck, that we could say to ourselves, ‘We have outworked these teams. We’re the best-prepared team, based on our level of effort from the start of the school year until now.’”
For as long as the Drury programs have been successful, the makeup of Reynolds’ teams is a never-ending cycle. Swimmers come and go, they graduate and incoming freshman take their place every year, but the one constant has been domination.
This year, he’s got swimmers good in the individual medley, but not quite as much in the distance events upon which he once built his foundation. On the men’s side, his sprinters broke the national record in the 200-meter free relay last year and have broken the 400-meter free relay mark each of the last three.
“It’s just different,” Reynolds said. “Every year, you just end up with a different combination of kids and you have to train them to the best of their abilities, so if you’re weak in one area, you’re going to make it up in the others. Having a lot of events at the national championship, you just have to do what you can in every single race to pull the team points.”
In the end, Reynolds can’t afford to concern himself with the fact that every single team that shows up this week at the DII national championships will be looking to topple Drury from atop its perch at the pinnacle of the sport. He can’t worry about the fact that there will still be those happy if somebody, anybody, finally beats the Panthers.
Reynolds doesn’t have control over any of that, so he doesn’t worry about it.
“We know what we need to do, now we just have to go execute it,” he said. “That pressure’s all self applied. It’s self applied by the coaches. It runs through the veins in the team. It’s something the kids aspire to. I think most kids come here to help win national championships, and they know that’s ultimately our goal.
“If we don’t, it’d be extremely disappointing. But we realize we can only control the things that we can do. We can’t control other teams and how well they swim. We focus in on just our performances, our training, what we’re doing as a team and how we support each other.”