Sept. 26, 2012
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - There's a new look on the deck of the Alabama Aquatic Center, home to the Crimson Tide men's and women's swimming and diving teams and it goes well beyond the nearly 20 freshmen the populate this year's rosters.
Alabama's new look starts at the top, with first-year head coach Dennis Pursleyand extends through a staff that includes five new assistant coaches to go with two returners from a year ago. A lot of the new faces look awfully familiar though, once again, starting at the top. This will be Pursley's second stint with Alabama swimming and diving following a career spent at the highest echelon of the sport.
The Louisville, Ky., native worked under Tide legends John Foster and Don Gambril to start his coaching career in the mid-1970s, following an Alabama career that included earning All-Southeastern Conference honors and an SEC 200 breaststroke title. He also earned both a Bachelor's degree and a Master's degree from the Capstone.
The Hall of Fame coach returns to the deck of the Alabama Aquatic Center after stops as the national team director for USA Swimming, the head coach of the Australian Institute of Sport and his most recent post as the head coach of British Swimming where he led his squad to a British-best 23 spots in the championship finals of the London Olympics.
During the first decade of Pursley's coaching career, which included stints as head coach of the Lakeside Swim Club and the Cincinnati Marlins, his swimmers accounted for seven world records, 12 American Records and 20 U.S. National Championship titles as well as numerous medals in major international competitions - including the Olympic Games and the World Championships.
In 1989, he was appointed as the first National Team Director of USA Swimming and was responsible for all aspects of the National Team program. During his 14 year tenure the medal production of the USA team increased substantially. The USA team finished first in the medal count in both men's and women's competitions in all three Olympiads of his tenure, culminating with 33 medals, including 14 gold, at the 2000 Olympics which was described by "Sports Illustrated" as the greatest team performance of all time. In recognition of his contributions, he was awarded the United States Olympic Committee Chairman's "Coaching Award" for 2000.
"The opportunity to work closely with many of the world's top swimmers and coaches in recent years has broadened my vision and I am excited to bring these ideas and concepts to the deck here at the Capstone," Pursley said. "I'm really excited to rejoin the Alabama family, especially during this era of enthusiasm, optimism and progress on the University campus."
He has also brought back Crimson Tide stalwarts Jonty Skinner and Mike Davidsonas assistant coaches. Skinner, UA's first NCAA Champion, winning the 100 freestyle in 1975, and a former world record holder in the 100-meter freestyle, has developed into one of the world's top coaches, with stints as the head coach of the USA Resident National Team and the director of USA Swimming's Performance Science and Technology unit, where he coordinated all of the testing, tracking and assessment of U.S. National Team members. Over the last three years he served under Pursley in a similar capacity with British Swimming.
Davidson earned All-American honors in the mile during a career that includes leading Alabama to the 1987 SEC Championship. He returns to Tuscaloosa after five years as head coach of the High Tide Aquatic Club in Gainesville, Fla. Other coaching stops include head coach of Sub-4 Swimming and a stint as a New Zealand national team coach.
The Tide also added assistant coach Lisa Ebeling, who joins the staff after stints as an assistant coach at the University of Utah and Rutgers University, as well as volunteer coaches David Pursley and Scott Crawford. David Pursley, a member of Arizona's 2008 NCAA Championship squad, coached at the University of North Carolina Aquatic Club last year, while Crawford comes to the Tide after a stint as a volunteer coach for St. Peter's Western Swim Club, one of the leading age group programs in Australia, which put 10 swimmers on the Aussie's 2012 Olympic squad.
The Tide's newest coaches are joined by veterans Pat Greenwell and James Barber. Greenwell, a six-time SEC Diving Coach of the Year, is in his 26th year with the Tide while Barber, who worked with Skinner as part of the USA Resident Team staff in the mid-90s, is in his sixth year as an assistant coach at the Capstone.
"I feel like we've assembled one of the best coaching staffs in the country and we're all very excited about the potential this team has," Pursley said. "Everyone understands the unique sense of pride that comes with being a part of the Crimson Tide family and every single person on this staff is dedicated to our program's philosophy which is based on character and commitment in the pool, in the classroom and in life."
On the men's side of the program, Pursley's first UA squad will be led by junior All-American BJ Hornikel, who finished second in both the 100 and 200 freestyles at the SEC Championships last season and helped lead the Crimson Tide to its 33rd top-25 finish at the NCAA Championships. Hornikel is currently ranked second all-time for UA in the 100 and 200 freestyles behind four-time Olympic gold medalist Jon Olsen. A tremendous competitor, Hornikel has gone undefeated in the 100 freestyle through his first two dual meet seasons.
The Tide will also be looking to SEC scorers John Ellis, Reese Shirey, Devan Terry, Cameron Conners, Jake Reynolds, Vlad Caiuc, Anestis Arampatzis, Luke Zippi and Peter Hillyerto step up again this season. Hillyer, Ellis and Arampatzis are the only seniors in that group, with the rest joining Hornikel as juniors, giving the Tide a solid base of experience.
On the women's side, the Tide will be led by junior All-American and 2012 Olympian Kristel Vourna. The school record holder in the 100 butterfly, she finished 12th in the 100-meter butterfly at the London Olympics, setting a new Greek national record in the process. The Tide will also look to Kaylin Burchell, who competed at the NCAA Championships last season as a rookie. Burchell comes into her sophomore season ranked second all-time in the 100 breaststroke.
The women will also depend on returning SEC scorers Paige McCleary, Angely Martinez, Lauren Piper, Stephanie Kinsey, Jenna Gallo, Callan Buck and Anna Rae Gwarjanski. The Tide women will also look to its freshman class, which makes up nearly half the team this year.
"I've been very pleased with the attitude of the team and the way they've embraced the changing culture of this program," Pursley said. "We're definitely a work in progress this season, especially on the women's side where we are so young, but the enthusiasm and dedication of everyone involved has been tremendous and I'm looking forward to the journey as we move forward as a program."
Alabama opens the 2012-13 season on October 6 at the Alabama Aquatic Center against Delta State.