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Feature: Diving back in — Alumni return for inaugural Club Tribe Masters Classic

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March 22, 2016

12:55 AM

After Division I athletes graduate, many go on with careers and lives outside of athletics. For those who do not continue in professional sports, athletic clubs exist for those wanting to stay both fit and competitive post-graduation. This Saturday marked the inaugural Club Tribe Masters Classic, a swimming event hosted by William and Mary alumni that swim as part of a United States Masters Swimming club.

In the pool at the Student Recreation Center, 75 swimmers from 15 teams attended the event, headlined by the return of many alumni from Tribe swimming as well as the College’s club swimming team from classes as far back as 1980 and as recently as 2013. Team manager Kyle Ahlgren ’97 co-founded the Club Tribe team, also known as Team Tribe 1693, in December 2014 with his wife after they began participating in USMS meets in Northern Virginia. The team is one of hundreds nationwide and just a snapshot of thousands of adult swimmers in the league, which only requires that participants be 18 or older.

“My wife and I both graduated here; my wife is class of ’98, I’m class of ’97, and we started doing Masters meets,” Ahlgren said. “We started noticing there were William and Mary people there, a lot of them a lot younger than us, some our age, people from all different eras. We started putting two and two together — we were swimming unattached — a lot of them were swimming unattached or with teams they didn’t really have any connection to.”

We decided we wanted to put something together and why not form a sort of virtual team that doesn’t have a physical location,” Ahlgren said. “Its spiritual location is right here at William and Mary, but would include all sorts of people from the William and Mary swimming diaspora, which is huge.”

The team began with just four members, enough to participate in relay events at meets. Team development began when Ahlgren and the other members wanted to build a bigger presence of College swimming alumni.

“We decided we wanted to put something together and why not form a sort of virtual team that doesn’t have a physical location,” he said. “Its spiritual location is right here at William and Mary, but would include all sorts of people from the William and Mary swimming diaspora, which is huge.”

As the team grew over the last 15 months of existence, extending throughout Virginia and its neighboring states and reaching directions as far north as Massachusetts, as south as Florida and as west as California. Now consisting of 35 members, 24 of them former members of the Division I team, including former stars such as Doug Slater ’80 (William and Mary Hall of Fame ’01), Michael Lovett ’00, Katie Grier ’10, Kevin Gallager ’10, Gabby Mizerak ’13 and Sidney Glass ’13. The team now has a part-time coach and has organized its first meet at its “spiritual home.”

“We were all living independent adult lives and training ourselves, no coaching,” Ahlgren said. “Now we sort of have a coach in Rich Williams from the class of ’98, who is a former [American Swimming Coaches Association] level 5 certified coach, which is kind of a big deal. He provides virtual coaching for a lot of these swimmers and writes workouts based on something called USRPT, which is Ultra Short Race Pace Training.”

“There has to be consideration for the fact that your body isn’t the same as it was when it was 20,” Williams said. “You’re also limited by time because you have jobs and family.

Ahlgren said that USRPT is ideal for training as an adult due to the focus on training like every workout is a race, which is beneficial for getting in pool time along with managing careers and families that many alumni have now, years after their time at the College. Rich Williams ’98 commented on how coaching is different than a college program.

“There has to be consideration for the fact that your body isn’t the same as it was when it was 20,” he said. “You’re also limited by time because you have jobs and family. They train really, really hard with much less time. There are narrow workouts on very specific things. It couldn’t work without adults.”

With the program established, Ahlgren reached out to the Tribe’s director of Swimming Matt Crispino ’02 in order to propose a meet for the team to return home to the 25-yard, eight-lane pool in the basement of the SRC. Not only was Crispino on board for the idea, but he and the Tribe — fresh off dominating the Colonial Athletic Association Championships last month — worked behind the scenes to set up and put on the meet. Club Tribe Masters Swimming donated 100 percent of the proceeds to the William and Mary swimming program.

“Our program is a family,” Crispino said. “When you graduate, you don’t leave that family. If anything, you become a stronger member. Our alumni are not only here competing, but they’re training together in Virginia or wherever they may live

The event consisted of 16 events ranging from short 50-yard sprints to the 1,000-yard free, including several relay options. Former and current Tribe swimmers alike were all around the pool Saturday afternoon, as well as members of the other teams and families. Other teams were from locations such as Hampton Roads, Richmond, North Carolina, Georgia and more. Crispino appeared relieved to be on the other side of a competition as the College’s operation of the event marks the end of two weeks of rest before offseason workouts begin.

“We wrapped up the season at the CAA Championships, and our kids took a week off and then they had spring break after that,” Crispino said. “Now we’re just getting back into our training schedule, so none of them are competing today but they’ll be helping to run the meet. This is the first time we’ve ever done this masters meet, so we’re excited to see how it goes.”

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Tribe alumni and other attendees of the meet stand poolside and warm up before the action. NICK CIPOLLA / THE FLAT HAT

According to Crispino, the event raised approximately $2,500 for William and Mary swimming, which will go toward travel and equipment. The importance of Tribe alumni was not lost on him, as his role as a member of the College team in the early 2000s wouldn’t have been possible without an alumni endowment in 1991 that prevented the program from being cut. Swimming at the College has the feel of a family affair because alumni stay in touch and often contribute to the program. This U.S. Masters-sanctioned meet is an important example of the deep connection of the alumni with the school, showing that competitive spirit as well as Tribe Pride stays with them after receiving degrees.

“Our program is a family,” Crispino said. “When you graduate, you don’t leave that family. If anything, you become a stronger member. Our alumni are not only here competing, but they’re training together in Virginia or wherever they may live … Everybody you see here is a supporter of the program, they know what’s going on and who the current swimmers are. They cheer for us and they support us financially, so we couldn’t ask for a better group of alumni.”

“This is one of the [swimmers’] first offseason Saturdays and to ask them to come in and do this was a big ask, and we really appreciate it,” Ahlgren said. “We hope it’s going to be worth it … We’re hoping to grow the meet and turn this into a reliable source of fun.”

The meet results had Tribe 1693 members topping the fields of 32 events of 40 in which the team participated, showing strong performances even years later from one of the more successful Tribe sports.

Twelve Virginia records were broken, including four by Slater and one from Mizerak.

The event was the first of its kind in Williamsburg, Va., but the organizers are hoping to make it an annual occurrence to keep the bond between the swimming alumni and the College strong.

“This is one of the [swimmers’] first offseason Saturdays and to ask them to come in and do this was a big ask, and we really appreciate it,” Ahlgren said. “We hope it’s going to be worth it … We’re hoping to grow the meet and turn this into a reliable source of fun.”

In addition, the Club Tribe team hoped that the event would allow the team to grow by recruiting graduating swimmers.

“I can definitely see myself and hopefully a bunch of my friends doing [masters swimming] after college to stay in shape and have some friendly competition,” junior swimmer Conor Cudahy said.

“We recruit like its nobody’s business,” Williams said. “When we see people that we know swam at William and Mary at masters meets, we want them on the team and we go after them hard. We recruit at all age groups … This is also a recruiting event for us, with the senior kids working the meet. We want to put on a good show and hopefully they’ll join us someday as well.”

The strategy appears to be somewhat effective, with at least one current College swimmer considering joining after graduation.

“I love swimming, it gets you in shape and works almost every muscle in your body,” junior Conor Cudahy said. “I can definitely see myself and hopefully a bunch of my friends doing [masters swimming] after college to stay in shape and have some friendly competition.”

The College swimming family is a tight-knit group, and with the large crowd at the pool Saturday, the Club Tribe Masters Classic could have a future as a fundraising event for the Tribe and a source of competition for the faithful alumni returning to their collegiate stomping grounds to share old memories and create new ones.

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About Author

Nick Cipolla

Sports Editor Nick Cipolla '17 is a neuroscience major from Virginia Beach, Va. He was previously Associate Sports Editor.

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