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Building A Strong Community To Support Our Program

Written By: Alicia Franklin

Many members of the swimming community don’t realize that in the middle of the Mile High city, lies a swim team with an incredibly rich tradition. This season, our men’s swimming and diving program completes its 75th year and the women’s team its 42nd year. One of my goals when coming back to the University of Denver as Head Coach in 2019, after 16 years as an Assistant Coach from 2001 to 2017, is to build a multi-faceted community supporting our program. This goal was reinforced by the challenges the pandemic brought us, that human bonds and community are of utmost importance. I believe community should be the backbone of a quality college program as it pulls together all of the involved groups toward a common goal.

The strategy will continue to evolve over time and has a few key components as the foundation.

First, our team parents are a powerful force to support our team values and goals. Our parent group has already had an incredible impact on fundraising in our program. We have parents on our team who have expertise and energy to give and within a year we have seen substantial growth. Future projects will include fundraising efforts to be used to directly benefit the current student-athletes. This year, one of those things will be to build an on deck video system for teaching and refining stroke technique. We have also used the dollars for leadership training & confidence coaching this season. Future funding may go towards a winter training trip, team building and personal development.

Second, alumni engagement tells the story of our program , many of whom I coached or had previously developed relationships with. Our alumni group has been asked to take a leadership role to establish a mentoring program to benefit both our alumni and current team. This program works to connect alumni and current student-athletes through a shared connection, from events swam to hometown location to academic interest. This program will establish mentoring to our current student-athletes by providing career development through alumni career panels, one-on-one support, and interview practice.

Third, fostering positive community impact where we live and go to school, the city of Denver. Leaders on our current team are developing a lasting program to teach swimming to children in our community who are underserved. The city of Denver does not have a lot of access to pools so many youth in Denver don’t have opportunities for water safety and learn to swim. We have incredible people on our team who have a great deal to offer as role models for young people and we can do that through our sports.

Lastly, and probably most important, surrounding our team with a coaching and support staff who give our team the daily support we need to live by our values and achieve our goals. I believe in including and empowering those involved in our program to take action in supporting our student-athletes. I can offer our student-athletes the person I am, the experiences I have had, the learning and growth I have achieved and there is so much more beyond myself. By giving our coaching and support staff the space to be themselves and teach our team, the swimmers and divers are gaining differing perspectives.

When we look at creating this intricate system, we make a promise to our athletes that joining the Pioneer team means that you’ve got a large network of support.

Alicia Hicken-Franklin completed her second season as the head coach of the Pioneers in 2020-21. Hicken-Franklin was named head coach on July 23, 2019 after spending 16 seasons, including 11 as the associate head coach, at Denver before coaching the two seasons at her alma mater Minnesota as the Gophers' associate head coach. 2020-21: Hicken-Franklin led the Denver women to their eighth-straight Summit League Championship, winning the event by nearly 350 points. Hicken-Franklin coached Women's Swimming Championship MVP Emily Vandenberg, 2020-21 Summit League Women's Swimmer of the Year Aysia Leckie and Newcomer of the Championship Ines Marin. With a shortened roster, Denver's men finished third at the 2021 Summit League Championships. 2019-20: In her first season as the head coach at Denver, Hicken-Franklin swept the program's seventh-straight Summit League Championship, taking all but one swimming event at the championships. Hicken-Franklin coached the men's program to three individuals and a program-best four relays to qualify for nationals. Prior to Being a Head Coach at Denver: The 2016 Assistant Coach of the Year nominee helped guide the Pioneers to back-to-back-to-back Summit League titles before departing for Minneapolis. While at Denver, Hicken-Franklin focused on the Pioneers' distance swimmers, coaching a pair of All-Americans that set Summit League records in the 500 and 1,650 free. Prior to Denver, Hicken-Franklin was an assistant at Washington State for three seasons before arriving in the Mile High City for her first stint, guiding the Cougars to 25 school records and their first top-30 finish in program history. Swimming Career: As a swimmer at Minnesota, the 1997 graduate was a six-time Big Ten Conference finalist in the 200, 500 and 1650 free. In the classroom, Hicken-Franklin was a two-time Academic Honorable Mention All-America selection in her junior and senior year. Hicken-Franklin was a finalist at the 1992 Canadian Olympic Trails. Personal: A native of Campbellville, Ontario, Hicken-Franklin graduated with a BS in kinesiology. She also received her MS in physiology of exercise from Washington State in 2000.

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