It was supposed to be an ordinary bus trip for Manhattan College’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams, which embarked on their seven-hour journey to Buffalo, N.Y. on Feb. 9 for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championships.
As any regular long bus ride would go, some players stayed in their own small bubble, listening to music, while others opted to convene and talk with one another.
But then, the bus trip took an unexpected turn. As the bus crossed the Hudson River, going through New Jersey, head coach Walter Olsweski gathered the team for an announcement. Olsweski let his players know that this would be his final MAAC Championships.
Olsweski, in charge of Manhattan’s women’s swimming and diving team for 19 years, and the men’s program for eight years, has announced his retirement from coaching.
“19 years I thought was sufficient,” Olsewski said in a phone interview. “The traveling from Suffolk County out of Long Island, 52 miles each way was finally getting to me. … It became kind of tiresome, and I felt that at my age in life, which is 69, this is a good time to give up the day-to-day type of thing.”
Olsweski became the coach of Manhattan’s women’s swimming and diving team in 1997. In 19 years, Olsewski has accumulated a 212-174 record. But most important to him, are the relationships he’s built with players. Relationships that have gone far beyond the pool.
“What I’ll miss is probably the relationship with the kids and with my coaching staff,” Olsweski said.
For Paige Raccioppi, a senior and captain on the team, Olsewski’s guidance for the last four years have been crucial.
“I think that he’s had such a great impact on my life, even outside of swimming more so,” Raccioppi said in a phone interview. “He just helped me realize that even though swimming can be serious and school can be serious, it’s okay to have a laugh and it’s okay to always keep an open mind.”
Olsewski made a concerted effort of reaching out to his players and connecting with them on a personal level.
“I made an effort after every single practice to have some kind of conversation with every single kid that showed up for practice,” Olsweski said. “That way they think, ‘I’m not just an extra member of the team, I’m an important part of Coach Olsweski’s squad.”
The one-on-one time with each player, was something Rich Llewellyn, a junior and captain on the team also appreciated.
“He’s really a big reason why I came here,” Llewellyn said. “I have had a great three years here so far and I have to thank him for that because I don’t know where I’d be if I wasn’t here.”
Under Olsewski, the men’s program emerged in 2008, replacing men’s tennis. At first, the squad had only eight players, but having made a promise to then athletic director Bob Byrnes that the team would have 11 players who would compete, Olsewski set out to fill three more spots.
Taking advantage of his position as head coach of the golf squad, Olsewski asked his golfers to try out for the men’s swimming and diving team. With a full roster in place, the team struggled in its first season, going 0-12, but has gone 50-38 over the last seven years.
The women’s side took off running under Olsewski, going 122-77 in his first 13 seasons. After a stretch of five years where the team failed to reach .500 in any season, the squad finished 7-6 in 2015-2016.
Despite all the accolades and the wins Olsweski has racked up in his career, what he is most proud of is the commitment to academics his teams have demonstrated.
“We had almost 100 percent graduation rate over the 19 years,” Olsweski said, “which means that kids are putting their four years in at Manhattan and getting an excellent education, as I did back in the 1960’s as a Manhattan graduate.”
Olsewski had been contemplating retirement for the last 16 months, and after speaking with his wife and close friends—including former athletic director Bob Byrnes, made the final decision.
“It’s something we had discussed,” Olsewski said. “We had gone over a couple of different scenarios, and I thought, ultimately it had to be my decision and that’s the decision I made.”
But although he will be officially retired, Olsewski intends on helping the teams often and offering his advice.
“It was sad because Mr. O [Olsewski] has made such an impact on my life personally,” Raccioppi said about Olsewski’s retirement. “He’s been there through it all and I can’t imagine the team without him. I do know that he needs to do this for himself because it’s just getting to be too much for him.”