Transcript: Orange and Blue Podcast with Swim/Dive Coach Jake Taber

Alan Babbitt [00:00:04] Welcome to the Hope College Athletics Orange and BluePpodcast. My name is Alan Babbitt. I'm the sports information director. Glad to be back with you this week with another interview with a Hope College coach. We're shifting a little bit after talking to all seven of our fall sport coaches. Shifting to the winter season now. Jake Taberr, head coach for the Flying Dutch and Flying Dutch Swimming and Diving programs. You start, I think, in the fall and then finish in the spring. So it's a multi-seasonal sport. Good to have you here on the podcast, Jake.

Jake Taber [00:00:42] Thanks, Alan. Great to be here. Looking forward to it.

Alan Babbitt [00:00:45] Obviously, this has been a unique semester for everyone, to put it mildly. For you guys. Your student-athletes were impacted in the offseason because it couldn't often get access to pools and that was either limited or not available for training. Then when you got here, you couldn't get in and use our pool yet, so you were training a little bit out outdoors at Bouws Pool. Then you've been practicing now at Kresge Natatorium inside the Dow Center. Take me through what this experience has been like since way back in March when, the NCAA championship got halted. Then we fast forward today.

Jake Taber [00:01:27] Yeah, boy, it's, I'm sure, as you've heard from other coaches, it's been a little bit of a whirlwind. March was really hard for us. We were really excited, had a handful of qualifiers getting ready and felt like they were in a really good spot. Just a couple of days before we were supposed to hop on a flight down to Greensboro, N.C., for the NCAA Championships, we learn the meet had been canceled. It was tough. From there, not to be able to return to campus. This team's a family. For the family to go every which direction and not know when we were going to get to see each other again, it was very difficult. We've got some great leadership and just some wonderful people in the program that I feel like in many ways did a great job of stepping up and keeping everyone as connected as we could be from literally all over the globe. Jack Muller went home to Australia. James Mandeville was studying abroad in New Zealand, then scattered all over the country as well. The summer was a little bit different for everyone. We had some people that had access to a pool facility and did a fair amount of training and others yet where they weren't sure when, where, or how they were going to find a way to get in the pool again. Some of them were creative and found ponds. One of the great things about living where we do here, if you're local, is our setting here in Holland with the big water here. But I think the one thing that we knew was everybody was eager to get back and get back together. While it's really been different across campus, I just couldn't be more grateful or proud to work anywhere else. The way that Hope College and President Scogin and his vision to be here and to provide this on-campus experience this fall is has been great. As far as pre-season goes, we're about his nontraditional, as it gets? But the NCAA, they changed a couple of things. One of them this year was our season is countable days as opposed to weeks. We've got an outdoor pool right down the road, Bouws Pool there, right next to Ray and Sue Smith Stadium where the football team plays. It was August and we really felt like there was value in getting our group together. I think we were probably the first team here at Hope that's ever been able to utilize that facility in season. As much as anything, it was just getting the group together and seeing those smiling faces and trying to take a step forward. Maybe from more from a dynamic in team chemistry standpoint than anything. That day, that Saturday outside in August was was everything that it was supposed to be. I felt like that got us off on the right foot and put us in a positive direction. Indoor facilities didn't open for a while yet. When they did, we were able to get in the water and kind of start going. It was a different start, but it was a great start because I think it provided just a little bit more normalcy than maybe some other aspects of life or campus had in the previous six or eight months. We've been building on that and we're excited about where we are and the group that we've got. We're counting each day as a blessing and trying to make the most of it.

Alan Babbitt [00:05:16] I would say swimming is a sport that demands a lot mentally of a student-athlete. There's two-a-days, there's morning sessions, there's afternoon sessions. It's monotony. It's the same thing, maybe depending on the stroke, some of the distances are different. But it can get obviously very routine. The best ones are able to kind of not get distracted by that. Talk about how you guys trying to help each other as a team, emotionally and focus wise and able to stay in the moment and maybe turn off all the things that may be outside that could be really distractions even more so right now.


Jake Taber [00:06:00] I think in a lot of ways, we're looking at some of the limitations that we have here as opportunities. For example, the whole social distancing piece and what we can and can't do, and how well we can train, and how many people can be on the water on deck and what our protocols are here, we're starting people from different ends of the pool and spacing them out strategically. But with this, we're also running some extra workouts, too. Instead of having a couple of larger workouts every afternoon, we've looked at class schedules and found windows where we can get a dozen or so when the water or more at a time, in the morning. It's different looks. It's more individual attention with the coaches on staff, with the number of people that are in the water. It's different practice times with different people. In a setting, in a scenario where it's incredibly difficult to be able to find the opportunity to get our whole team together in the same place at the same time, we're doing little things like assigning lanes based on alphabetical order based on middle name or last two digits of your cell phone number or just some random things like that to get some people outside the box a little bit and in the lane and into lane space that gets them interacting maybe with somebody that they otherwise wouldn't maybe as early in the season. It's starting to serve us pretty well. We're at a point in the year now where we're getting ready to register for next semester and the home stretch of the fall here is before us academically. We're training at a pretty high level and trying to find and maintain the right balance, in terms of promoting mental health as well as rest and staying on top of our academics while balancing the athletic piece. It's sort of a little bit of a challenge more this year than others, but it's going well. We've got a resilient group. I think one of the things that we as coaches just need to make sure we're doing a great job of recognizing is one of the skill sets that we're tasked with as far as mentoring and leading these student-athletes is perseverance. Boy, this is a year maybe more than any other where that's absolutely at the forefront of where we are. We're doing the best we can with what we've got right now.

Alan Babbitt [00:08:51] Obviously, having two teams and two pretty decent sized teams, you need some great help coaching wise. Talk about your assistant coaches and how they've been able to help this program move forward as well and help you as a head coach.

Jake Taber [00:09:07] The timing of this podcast is one that's great. If I'm really being honest in that regard, we have welcomed a couple of new coaches to staff just recently. For us, having Dave Jolly here is just huge. You talk about a guy that ran the Chelsea High School program from the late 80s up through the 2018 season. He just gets it. He did a phenomenal job in Chelsea. He's been the heavy. He's written the workouts. He's had the stresses for it. The way that we're able to come in and dialogue with one another and really compliment each other's skill sets, I think has been has been awesome. I think in some regards, it's a really healthy thing.  Like I do, Dave has four children, three daughters and a son. The only difference is he's got two out of college and two in college.  I think the whole relatability piece from a very different standpoint has been really good for the group that we've got on deck here. He's got kids going through the same thing right now. That's just been really, really healthy. We welcomed Matt Hedman to the staff here this week. Matt was part of a couple of national championship teams at Denison, individually national runner-up a couple of times, has been coaching club as well as a high school in Anoka, Minnesota there outside the Twin Cities near Edina. I think he's got a really nice swimming mind, just seems like a very genuine young man that's got a bright future in the sport here and is excited to be on deck here with us at Hope. Then Danielle Freeman recently started. A couple of people in West Michigan might remember her name. She was individual state champ in the 50 and 100 free at Hudsonville a handful of years back before signing to swim and play softball at Evansville. She's been on deck with us for a couple of weeks now. There's nice fire and intensity and accountability and that whole relatability piece is the same. I think that's been wonderful for the swimmers. The divers are a little bit of a unique situation. Becca Garza has done just a fantastic job out of the diving well as evidenced by taking first-year diver, Kam Wilcox, as a freshman, and turning him into MIAA MVP as a sophomore was pretty darn impressive. Becca and her husband, Greg, welcomed Greyson, a little boy into their family just a few weeks ago. We've been fortunate to welcome a familiar face back to the pool deck, Areal Tolsma who's helping us out here while Becca is is on maternity leave there. The dynamic on the diving well has just been great. They seem to be doing just a wonderful job. It's been fun to go out and check it out there every afternoon while they're diving and just kind of hear a little bit of the stories from the other side. We've got a great staff and that's one one of the areas that we are just very, very fortunate. We feel like that's going to create opportunity for us.

Alan Babbitt [00:12:31] Tell us a little bit more about each of the teams, the men's and the women's. Obviously, we are waiting to see when you're going to be able to compete. Fingers crossed, whenever it is, we can have all the good thoughts going toward that. Tell us about each of these teams and what you are you seeing in the pool right now?

Jake Taber [00:12:53] We're excited. We really are. We have been pretty intentional out on the recruiting front these last couple of cycles. I think we're really going to see a lot of that pay off for us this year if we have the opportunity to go out and compete the way that we expect to. Talented teams that really are pretty balanced. Coach Jolly and I have talked in the offseason and through the early season here. I felt like every day we would come off the pool deck and just kind of chat about the workout and say something to the effect of we're doing some pretty good things right now. It builds on it.  I think one of the nice things here is we've got effective leadership. We're a young team. We're a very, very young team. When you look at, the breakdown from one class to the next, we are very freshmen and sophomore heavy. But you look at somebody like Emma Schaefer, who's just been there, qualified for the NCAA championships as a freshman, MIAA league MVP and three-event champ as a junior, she is somebody that goes out and sets that tone every day. The men and the women, they see that. They follow that. Right along with that, it's been exciting to watch some of these freshmen kind of come into their own a little bit in practice as well. It's a scenario and an environment where the people are around you want to see you succeed. I think they recognize that the more that is happening for the people that are in the pool around you, the easier it is for you to elevate your game from a training standpoint. We're seeing that, right out of the gate. A freshman on the women's side, Maddy O'Donnell has come in and just elevated the training here. She's from Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois. She's going to do a number of good things for us. We're certainly excited about that. But, the trickle-down effect and really across the board has been a really, really healthy thing for us. I think on the other side of that, too, you look at some of the sophomores and it's been nice because they absolutely don't feel like freshmen anymore. They understand the program and they understand what we need to do. They're finding their voices a little bit more. It's been a really, really good fall for us in terms of where this young team is and in regards to where we feel like we're able to go.

Alan Babbitt [00:15:45] What is the biggest thing that freshmen have to master to realize their full potential?

Jake Taber [00:15:51] I don't mean to cop out and say time management, but really, I think time management, that's the skill set that creates opportunity for everything in life.  When you're going to hop in the pool and be a part of an NCAA varsity sport, at the NCAA level, especially one that has a time commitment like swimming with a lot of times morning practices and back in the water every afternoon just the same. For you to recognize the real reason that you're here and excel in the classroom and also be committed, be the committed athlete that we expect you to be, it's that time management skill set, it absolutely is. We, by and large, have a group that gets it, so to speak. We'll talk about bigger picture items pretty frequently on, those being faith, family and academics. There are things that flat out have to come before sport. And they do. What we need to be really good at is planning ahead and recognizing that and not allowing those things to interfere with what we're doing in the water any more than they have to. I think the swimming specific answer to your question, especially for a high school-only swimmer that maybe doesn't have a ton of club experiences, the season is a little bit longer. It's about a high school season and a half. The event range and combinations are a little bit different as well. 

Alan Babbitt [00:17:25] I know your experience as a student-athlete here at Hope, you talked earlier about the faith, family, and academics, you've obviously lived that here. swimming for the Hall of Fame coach John Patnott, who had you had a chance to work with as well in your first year here when you two were co-head coaches. You met your wife, Kelly, here, kelly, an outstanding student-athlete in her own right. Now all these years later, you guys have got a family of four. Take me through your Hope experience, what it's meant to you, how it's shaped you now as a father and a dad and a coach.

Jake Taber [00:18:05] Tell you what, I'm all smiles thinking back on those things. Alan, I know what the student-athlete experience at Hope can be. I lived it. I lived it for four years. As Kelly and I talked about her student-athlete experience on the softball team and compared notes to mine here in this program, we both felt the same way. It's an absolutely transformational experience. It changed our lives and for the better. I will joke and tell people on the team, when you graduate, if your experience here was half as good as what mine was, making the decision to come to Hope and swim here was an absolute no brainer and the best decision you could have made. Truthfully, knowing what the experience can be makes it that much more exciting to make, to be intentional, to try and provide that for each and every student-athlete that we have the chance to work with. For us, it was really exciting to be able to come back, to be here and to be home, We moved back with a five-, three- and one-year old. A year later, we welcome the anchor to our family relay to the family. At this point, we've got, our oldest turned eight earlier this week, and then we're five, three and one. Life is busy. Life is awesome. We have really tried to show our kids and our family what the Hope experience can be. Before coronavirus hit, we were that family where our Sunday family dinners were at the dining hall, which is great. You come in and have a meal that was already prepared for you and not have to cook for six. We had a ball with it. We'd come up and sit on the side of the dining hall where the team usually sat. The team's great with our family. There are just good people here. I tell you what. We wanted to make sure that our children were having positive associations with what Hope College was and where dad worked. We're really excited to be able to do things like that again here very soon.

Alan Babbitt [00:20:27] I have to ask. How did you and Kelly meet?

Jake Taber [00:20:35] The year after we graduated, I was working in the admissions office and she had just finished teaching back in her hometown. She had taken a position as a full-time assistant softball coach at a school at a college in Pennsylvania. For the summer, she was a sports school instructor here in Holland and was subletting a room across from my house. One of the guys that that I knew really well from college that I was living with, Phil Morse, a former Pete Schmidt Award winner for the football team, and Kelly were friends throughout college. It was great. You know, I joke I had a puppy and a Jeep and she didn't stand a chance, Honestly, I need to credit Phil Morse for that.

Alan Babbitt [00:21:27] Funny how that stuff works out. Now you guys are parents and two kids swimming. What's that like being a swimming dad. You know the coaching lens? You know the athlete lens? Is it easier or harder as a dad of swimmers? How do you manage that? Because that's another had to throw on, or I guess swim cap is the better analogy.

Jake Taber [00:21:53]  I don't know yet. Logistically with four young kids, that's interesting. Our kids are really only swimming a couple of meets. They joined West Ottawa Swim Club last winter. The first meet that they had, it was comical. Kelly said, Jake, you're always on the deck. Why don't you go early and grab a spot for us and, I'll bring the baby later. So I'm thinking, okay, I'll sweat up in the stands a little bit. But I got there and two guys that I graduated with, one's a nurse and another is an assistant superintendent in town. They both had kids swimming with West Ottawa Swim Club as well. We walked in together and lo and behold, not 10, 15 minutes later, a captain from my sophomore year, Gary Albrecht walks in, and right behind him is a captain from my junior Brian Slagh. Then, a captain from my freshman year, Chris Dattels. We had the Zeeland crew that's still pretty local and what have you. Kelly rolls in, I don't know, 15, 20 minutes before the meet starts and she looks up in the stands and it's this huge group of guys that all swam together in college. It was just kind of one of those counting figures type of thing. The whole parent piece, We just want our kids to love it. At seven and five last winter, it gave them something to be a part of and something to be excited about. I think my son might have been more excited about Gatorade and some snacks in his backpack than the 25 backstroke he was going to swim. They're having fun with it and for me right now I couldn't ask for more as a dad.

Alan Babbitt [00:23:45] Did you get in the pool yourself when you were young? Is that where you're your love of swimming began or how did that get started and evolve?

Jake Taber [00:23:54] I think I was in third grade when I began swimming competitively. I played three sports throughout high school. Admittedly, I'm a little tired today. Game 6 of the World Series was last night. I watched it. I love baseball. It's been good fun. I hopped in the water and really enjoyed it. It was just one of those things that to me was gratifying and competitive. I think I like the fact that I could compete against myself when there wasn't somebody next to me that I knew that I needed to compete with. It was just kind of a win-win. It was two-fold. You could race the guy next to you. But, if there wasn't a race next to you, you're always racing, competing against yourself. You're trying to find ways to perfect your opportunities as well.

Alan Babbitt [00:24:47] Thanks for joining us, Jake. It's been fun to chat with you on the Orange and Blue Podcast and learn a little bit more about the Flying Dutch and the Flying Dutchman in the pool. Good luck. We're getting closer. Almost, I think, four weeks out before the end of the semester, which has obviously been a big goal. I appreciate you and your team's efforts to get us there. It's an exciting thing we want to have and hopefully you're going to see in the pool competing very soon.

Jake Taber [00:25:14] That's the plan. Alan, we're trying to put a couple of things in place with the group that we've got here now, get up and get going. I think we have some pretty competitive squads, which will be exciting. Great to see you. Appreciate the conversation. I look forward to connecting again soon.

Alan Babbitt [00:25:30] Sounds great. Thanks, Jake. | PO Box 9000, Holland, Michigan 49422