Written By: John Spadafina
What makes a good program become a great program? Both have uniforms, logos, location, and maybe a mascot. Taking a program from good to great begins and ends with coaches and athletes developing trust and forming an internal agreement that I call THE WANT.
As Coaches & Swimmers, there will be ups and downs, you will have your highs and lows, you will have your great successes, and you will also go back to the drawing board. As a coach, I have seen my swimmers make all-conference in their events. We have seen the smiles on their faces after setting team and pool records. We jump for joy for lifetime best times. We have also dealt with disappointment in conference champs. We have seen our athletes put in everything and not be as successful as they want.The daily struggle and hope for victory brings us back to the pool everyday. This emotional juxtaposition characterizes our daily motivation and is also part of THE WANT.
A program is a place of development, in the water and in life. Every day is a teachable moment. As a college coach, it’s not only their four years as a Pioneer but the next 40 years as they prepare for their career. I will always remember splits, the moment leading up and the final time. In this case, both athlete & coach will celebrate the joy of an accomplished swim but I will most cherish being invited to a graduate school academic award ceremony. I remembered 3 years prior when I was jumping up and down over a lifetime best time. Now this young woman was ready for her teaching career. Swimming requires time management, teamwork and discipline, you need this to be a well rounded student athlete.
Being at a university where I can have nursing students be successful in the classroom and in the pool is a great joy. It's a tough road, but when they get that call that they got a job offer pending passing their NCLEX, and a follow up call a month later that they passed and you are one of the first they tell, it's a pretty special feeling. And that applies to every great academic career. I love when I hear of our alumni who give back to our sport; who are coaching or getting back into the sport in some way, and they reach out to us asking “what was that drill we used to do” or “what was that set you made us do that morning off the blocks which we hated, I am going to use it.” ( 20x100 2:30 From a Dive) .
That is what a great program can do, help athletes find confidence in their next steps WE WANT THEIR WANT! Trust in the program with the great process that will trust THE WANT in you.
Coach Spadafina is entering his eighth season as head coach of the Pioneers. Over the past seven seasons, Spadafina has made the Swimming & Diving program relevant not only in the Northeast Conference but also in the region. He is Sacred Heart Swimming & Diving’s All-Time Program leader in dual meet wins and also the programs the longest tenured coach. Every semester since the fall of 2014, Coach Spadafina’s teams have earned CSCAA Team Scholastic All-American Honors, and consistently has the top 3 team GPA's in the NEC among women’s Swimming & Diving Teams. The 2020-2021 season marked unprecedented times but also the one of the most successful campaigns in SHU Swimming & Diving’s History. In November 2020, Kelly Bartnett competed at the US Open, in the 50m Freestyle in Richmond, VA. On January 23rd 2021, SHU hosted the second NCAA Swimming & Diving Competition since the start of the pandemic in the northeast and first in the Northeast Conference and other peer conferences vs local Central Connecticut State University. The Pioneers ended up 3-2 in the shorten 2021 season, with victories over NEC schools Merrimack College, St Francis Brooklyn and crosstown rivals Fairfield University solidifying their 4th winning season in 5 years. The Pioneer team members also broke 5 school Records, starting off with Olivia McNicholas breaking an 11 year old one Meter diving record vs Fairfield University. 17 Pioneers also earned themselves on the All-Time Top Performance List. At the Northeast Conference Championships, the Pioneers placed 4th, which ties any team in program history and the highest place since the conference expanded to 8 or more teams. Pioneer Divers scored the highest points (93) in program history and the most points at the Northeast Conference Championships. Olivia McNicholas Placed 2nd on the One Meter Board earning her All Conference 2nd Team. The Team scored 375 points, had 27 finalists, all program bests. Pioneer Swimmers & Divers have achieved great success under coach Spadafina. Since 2014, 72 varsity records have been broken and over 30 pool records throughout the region have been set by Pioneer Swimmers. 80% of the Top 5 All-Time Student Athletes were or are members under Coach Spadafina. Improving and development is a key to SHU’s program in and out of the pool. But those who have been threw the program, every athlete has achieved at least 1 lifetime best time when they entered SHU. 93% have achieved at least 2 lifetime best times, and 83% have achieved 3 or more lifetimes best times. This is a testament to the dedication of our student athletes in and out of the pool. Lauren Somers ’20 was named NEC Swimmer of the Week nine times and rookie of the week two times. Molly Martin ’22 was named NEC Diver of the week five times in 2019-20 and Megan McLaughlin one time in 2019. In 2015, Jillian Crosby ‘17 was Spadafina’ s first Swimmer of the Week followed by Jessica Poole ‘19 and Nicole Sauve ’19 who were named rookies of the week. In 2021 Olivia McNicholas was named Diver of week two times. In 2020, senior Bryana Cielo was named the Hartford Healthcare Courage Award Recipient for the month of April and presented virtually by Rebecca Lobo the ambassador of the program. Diver Molly Martin won the ECAC Winter Championship 1Meter & was named Diver of the Meet along with Women’s Diving Coach of the Meet Adam Vance. Martin placed 5th at the Northeast Conference championships and 3rd earning herself All-NEC on the 3m board. Molly also set the SHU 3-meter record in 2020. SHU also went undefeated at home for the second straight season, after going undefeated the previous year defeating Central Connecticut for the first time in school history. In 2017-18, Lauren Somers set the 200 Free Meet record with a time of 1:51.37 at the ECAC Winter Championships, Margaret Flaherty placed third at 2018 NEC’s in the 1650 (17:14.79) breaking a 14-year-old record and followed it up with a second place in 2019. Jillian Crosby in 2015 placed second at NEC’s in the 500 Free (5:02.02) rounding out our podium winners. As a team, SHU placed 3rd overall at the ECAC Winter Championships in 2016. Under Spadafina, the 2016-17 team went 9-2 which carried the most wins in program history, defeating LIU-Brooklyn, Iona, and Assumption College for the first time in school history. This was also the first time in school history SHU Swimming & Diving had an above .500 winning percentage. In 2014-15 & 2015-16, Spadafina’ s teams had its best time improvements over 90% and set over 15 school records, not to mention defeating cross town rival Fairfield University for the first time ever and improving in the standings at the Northeast Conference. Prior to SHU, Spadafina served as the Assistant Swim coach at Central Connecticut State University from 2010-2014. The Blue Devils had 72 NEC all conference, a NCAA B Qualifier, & CSCAA Scholastic All American. The Blue Devils, finished no lower than 4th in the 4 years while at CCSU. He was heavily involved in recruiting and the alumni foundation. Coach Spadafina has 18 years of USA Swimming Coaches experience. Now an Associate Head Coach with the Rapids Swim Team, he was formally the Head Coach/ Director of the Park City Wolfpack. He has coached Swimmers at all levels ranging from Novice to Senior National Qualifiers. This past May one of Coach John’s Athletes on the Rapids qualified for the Olympic Trials in Omaha. Coach Spadafina Sat on CT Swimming’s Board of Directors as Coach Representative from 2010-2012 and Senior Committee member 2016-2020, where he was the meet director representing SHU at the CT Senior Open. Coach Spadafina is also the Northeast Conference Coaches Representative, and has been selected as a coach for the CSCAA Mentoring Program. Coach John is also a member of SHU’s Diversity Equity & Inclusion Committee. Spadafina, a 2003 graduate of Central Connecticut State University with BA in Arts in History, Spadafina was a member of Central Connecticut’s Men’s Swimming & Diving team and served as Team Captain. Spadafina resides in Wallingford, CT with his wife Amber and daughter Chloe.