By John Jackson, Staff Writter
The men’s and women’s swimming and diving program has experienced some big changes over the last few months. After longtime coach Walter Olsewski retired, assistant coach Joe Murtha became the head coach.
To fill Murtha’s vacant assistant coaching position, Kayla Smoragiewicz was hired.
“It’s an honor,” said Smoragiewicz. “This is my first time really going out for a coaching position and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to be hired. It’s amazing for me to be here and I’m so happy.”
Smoragiewicz graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University in 2015. During her four years there, she swam for a competitive Division III swimming program.
“That school taught me so much,” said Smoragiewicz. “It was a D3 school, but my coach took it very seriously and we were one of the top D3 schools in our Championship meets. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it.”
Throughout her four years, Smoragiewicz was atop the school leaderboard for times in various races.
In her freshman and sophomore year, Smoragiewicz finished in the top five and top ten of several races like the 50, 100 and 200 backstroke, and the 100 and 200 freestyle.
Smoragiewicz made a huge leap in her junior and senior year, finishing atop the leaderboards. She was first in the 50 and 100 backstroke junior year, and won the 50 backstroke and 100 freestyle senior year.
Smoragiewicz’s other accomplishments include being named captain in her senior year and being a part of two program record-breaking relay teams.
The first record was a 200-medley relay set at the Little East Conference (LEC) Championship in 2013. The relay team combined for a time of 1:51.08. The second record was a 400-medley relay set at the New England (NE) Championship in 2014. The relay team finished that race in 4:02.33.
When Murtha was interviewing Smoragiewicz, he found some valuable qualities in her including passion and drive.
“You can sense the passion she had for the sport,” said Murtha regarding his decision in the hiring process. “She kind of reminded me of myself as far as the drive to improve the program.”
Murtha also felt that Smoragiewicz’s age was important since she can relate to the students well, considering she was recently in their place. He also found her fundraising experience to be helpful.
“She is mixing in with the kids very well,” said Murtha. “They’re responding well to her on deck. In addition to that, I think she’s going to be really big in fundraising stuff. She comes from a program where they’ve done a lot of fundraising and I’m looking for her to try to help me with some of that.”
Smoragiewicz knew what it feels like to be a student-athlete when she was in college. It involved a lot of time management and that is something she still deals with today as she is currently attending Fordham University to get her Masters.
“I’m balancing a lot right now,” said Smoragiewicz. “I’m also working another job, but I have always been very busy. I also think being a student-athlete makes you very organized and makes you very set for the future.”
Eileen Blood, a junior on the women’s swimming team, echoes the positive sentiments about Smoragiewicz, as well praising the hire from a diversity standpoint.
“I’m really excited we finally have a girl coach,” said Blood. “Somebody who can connect with us and will understand us. And she’s young. She just graduated. She can help us out with living in the real world [and] give us advice.”
Both Murtha and Smoragiewicz will continue working on improving a swimming program that has experienced recent success. Murtha is glad to have the help of Smoragiewicz in his first year as head coach.
“I’m really excited to have her on board,” said Murtha. “I think we’re going to make a good team.”