A decade ago, Brown Swimming and Diving was in a dark place. In a league where you can practically set your watch to some order of finish between Harvard, Princeton and Yale, Brown was among the schools fighting to be "the best of the rest". Then, their pool, old and weird but 50m long, broke.
Brown tried to soften the recruiting blow it knew was coming by immediately announcing a new pool, but it would be years, spanning the career of entire classes, before that building materialized.
But this blog is not about pool construction. It's about coaching. In 2014, Brown made a bold decision. They would split their men's and women's team. bucking a nationwide trending towards "combining" programs.
They hired Kate Kovenock, coming off a run as an assistant at Notre Dame that saw her take Emma Reaney, a 1:02 high school 100 breaststroker, to a 57.7. Oh, and she won Notre Dame's first women's NCAA title in the 200 breast.
Kovenock somehow remains underrated and undermentioned. But here's the short story: she was a top Division 3 swimmer. She kicked butt as an assistant coach at Kenyon. She tore it up at Notre Dame. When she came to Brown, the team had finished 6th in the conference the previous year and was non-competitive in relays.
The team would finish 6th again in her first year. But it was the most possible improvement you could possibly get and not make a move in the standings. All of a sudden, swimmers were having "Emma Reaney" like moments.
Kate Dillione, a 53 100 yard freestyle who had swum nicely at Brown, found an extra gear for her senior year and recorded a 49.68. The women's 400 freestyle relay leapt up to title contention with a second place finish.
By her second season, Kovenock's team started to climb the standings, finishing 5th. Ally Donahue, a 2:21 high school breaststroker, was winning an Ivy title in 2:12. By 2016-2017, only a league record from ascendent Yale could stop Brown's 200 Medley relay from coming out on top.
I got inspired to write this because this past weekend, Harvard eeked out a victory over Brown in a double-dual, 166-134. Brown had to absorb the punishment of Harvard going 1-2-3 on both diving boards. I guarantee you the trend line of this dual meet, which as of last year was not close, does not comfort anyone in Cambridge.
Making a swimming powerhouse at Brown University is no easy task, but Kovenock seems up to the task. She's proving right now that she's one of the best young college coaches in the entire country by making Brown an exciting place to follow again.