Beth Whittle’s departure from Macalester in early August left the Scots’ swim and dive team with no coach and two months until the start of the 2018 season. With just over a month until the start of practice, Macalester began a search in earnest to find its next head coach.
The search took all the time Macalester had. Kyllian Griffin was named Macalester’s head swim and dive coach on September 14. He arrived on campus for his first day just in time to coach the season’s first practice later that afternoon.
Griffin graduated from Lawrence University in 2009, where he excelled as a distance swimmer and won two conference championships in the 1650-yard freestyle and 800-yard freestyle relay.
At Lawrence, he made sure to stay involved in activities outside the pool. Griffin credits his experiences on the campus program board, in a fraternity, as an RA and as a welcome week leader for developing him into a well-rounded individual and helping him understand his strengths and weaknesses as a leader.
“A lot of change happens in college,” Griffin said, “and for me it was a very impactful part of my growth and development. Division-III Athletics is about more than just the sport. It’s about helping young people find themselves and figuring out how athletics fits into their lives.”
After graduating, Griffin found an opening at Beloit College as an assistant coach before returning to Lawrence to serve as an assistant coach and director of residential life. It was here that he realized he wanted to pursue coaching as a career. He went back to school and got his Master’s Degree in 2013 to further his prospects of landing a head coaching job.
“As a coach, you give instructions and when they finally click and it works and the athlete sees the results, the acknowledgement on their part is really pretty special,” said Griffin.
Griffin came to Macalester after serving as the head coach at the Illinois Institute of Technology for the past four years. He replaced Beth Whittle, who resigned from her post after nine years to become the head swim and dive coach at Pacific University.
“The opportunity to come to Macalester was an opportunity to get back to a liberal arts institution with a high focus on academics and academic rigor,” Griffin said. “What attracted me [to Mac] was not only that environment but the potential for some athletic success to be paired with that academic success.”
Taylor Durbin ’19, Paul Reischmann ’19, Ariel Roghair ’20 and Olivia Borgmann ’19 are this year’s team captains. As the student liaisons between the coaching staff and the team, they’ve worked hard to solidify a positive team culture and help the new coaching staff accommodate every swimmer’s needs.
“Change is always hard, especially in a year when we have a new coach,” Durbin said. “Going into this change with our current group of people made this so much easier. There were a lot of differences, and I think both Kyllian and the coaching staff as well as the team have both been amazing at talking about what either party wants.”
The main hurdles going into the season were creating a practice schedule and unifying the team. Both the coaches and the team entered the season excited and ready to work, and communication was key throughout this phase of the season.
“Kyllian talked about Saturday morning practices and having a morning a week in the water,” Borgmann said, “which is a substantial change this early in the year. We made some adjustments to the schedule he set, and I think we’re in a really good place now where people feel they can do it.”
A few weekends ago, the team spent a Saturday at Mattocks Park and engaged in a number of fun bonding and team goal-setting activities. Captains highlighted the importance of events like these in bringing the team close together.
During the first two weeks of the season, Griffin organized one on one meetings with each swimmer as an opportunity to understand their goals for the season and learn about who they are outside of the pool. Across the board, swimmers responded to the meetings with overwhelming positivity. Each athlete used their meeting to engage in productive conversation and gain a sense of how they can work effectively as an individual and a member of team.
“The one-on-one meetings were good for him to get to know us,” Roghair said. “[Kyllian] asked us about our academics and our interests outside of swimming. It was a way for him to understand where we are as swimmers, and how he can modify our workouts to help us.”
“My goal for us this year is for us to have fun, to work hard, to push each other to get better every week and see where this goes,” Griffin said. “We want to make sure that practices are fun, that the environment is light and that we’re cheering and supporting and fostering that environment to be our best.”
Griffin’s team philosophy is that great teams do the little things well. That starts with practice, and ensuring that the team works every day to become their best selves. He emphasized that the focus should always be on learning and pushing oneself, and fast times will follow.
“Kyllian’s been very clear that times do not mean worth,” Durbin said. “We’ve had that mentality and culture for the past number of years, and he’s come in and been very adamant about the change. I love that as a swimmer.”
Further down the road, the goal is for the men’s and women’s teams be more competitive in the MIAC. Both teams have finished in seventh place at the MIAC Championships each of the past three years. Griffin and the team realize change can’t happen overnight, and they hope to start laying the foundations for such successes this season.
“It’s a tough conference with a lot of great swimming and diving schools,” Griffin said. “We have a great opportunity to become one of them over the next three to five years.”