Hanson brings new heart to Saluki swimming and diving

By Tamar Mosby, Sports Reporter

Last spring, Saluki Athletics announced the retirement of one of its longest employed and most successful coaches, swimming and diving head coach Rick Walker.

Walker spent 32 years with the SIU swimming and diving program and served as the head coach for 26 of them. In that time, he coached 237 athletes to individual and relay conference titles and 209 athletes to all-conference honors. Eight of Walker’s swimmers also competed in the Olympic games.

Many were curious as to who would replace Walker and in late May, the Athletic Department revealed Geoff Hanson as Walker’s successor.

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“It means a lot to me to be chosen,” Hanson said. “I am following a lot of really successful coaches. It’s big shoes to fill, but I know just from talking to some of those guys the traditions that went on, and I want to continue them.”

Liz Jarnigan, newly appointed athletic director, is confident in Hanson’s abilities and said she feels he is a great addition to the athletics department staff.

“Geoff Hanson has demonstrated the commitment to student-athlete development, recruiting and winning that we value,” Jarnigan said. “It was clear when members of our staff and of our swimming team met with him, that he will be a great fit in our Saluki family.”

Hanson has 19 years of coaching experience, and his first season at SIU will mark his sixth year as a head coach.

Prior to his arrival in Carbondale, Hanson served for three years as the head coach for the Division II Colorado Mesa swimming program. 

During his time at Colorado Mesa, Hanson coached the team to school records for the highest finish at the NCAA Division II National Championships in 2018 and 2019. 

“Colorado Mesa was similar to here,” Hanson said. “I took over a program that had a good foundation, and we recruited and built one of the top Division II programs in the country.”

Hanson said the toughest part about leaving his prior job was saying goodbye to his athletes. Despite this, the new coach has managed to bring one of his swimmers to Carbondale to join the SIU program.

“One swimmer has transferred here from Colorado Mesa, and she is going to make a huge impact on our relays and freestyle events,” Hanson said. “It’s nice to have a familiar face that was successful in my program come here.”

The way Hanson treats his swimmers has left an impact on them early on, and senior backstroke/individual medley swimmer Ryan Lehane said this is one of the many qualities that makes him an excellent head coach.

“I would say his best quality is how personable he is with his athletes,” Lehane said. “He really cares about us even though he has only been here for such a short time. You can tell that he wants to see us improve in and out of the pool.”

Laura Carver, a senior breaststroke/individual medley swimmer, said she agrees with her co-captain Lehane about the care Hanson takes with his athletes.

“He gives us a lot of individual attention,” Carver said. “He’ll go by and correct each one of us as we are swimming. He is very personable and very good at meeting with us.”

What excites Hanson the most about his job is being at the pool with his athletes and seeing them improve, he said.

“It just doesn’t feel like a job,” Hanson said. “When I’m here at the pool working with college-age student athletes, it’s what I love to do. Every day I learn from them, and coming in here and getting to watch these kids work hard and improve is great.”

So far this season, Hanson has been focusing on getting his athletes into shape and getting back to the basics with them.

“The main focus for us right now has been early season conditioning,” Hanson said. “We aren’t necessarily focused on swimming fast or racing: we’re just trying to build up our aerobic fitness, so we can go into full-time swim training. In the pool, we’ve been focusing a lot on technique and doing things right before we try to do them fast.”

Carver said she feels that Hanson’s conditioning and his technical training has helped them improve very early on in the year.

“I feel that we have a lot more direction,” Carver said. “We know exactly why we’re doing everything. He explains to us why we are doing every single thing that we’re doing. I also feel that we’re getting into really good shape really fast, so that’s nice.”

Pre-season conditioning workouts have also been one of the changes Hanson has made this year with the team.

“A lot of the changes I’ve made are schedule changes, meaning what we do when in the season,” Hanson said. “Our weight room routine is going to be a big point of emphasis. Some of the early season training we have done is also different because we’ve done some running, stadium stairs and sprints on the football turf that they haven’t done in the past.”

In addition to making changes in training, Hanson said he has also added a second assistant coach, Johno Fergusson, to his staff to make it an even four.

“I think the addition he made of another assistant coach has really been helpful,” Lehane said. “We have had only two in the past, so having that third set of eyes really helps us correct our strokes and see things that we didn’t before. This is helping us improve in the pool.”

Hanson’s main goal for this year’s team is to give the 22 seniors on the team a great deal of success in their final year and to improve upon team performances at conference by expanding team depth.

“What I want to do is give them the best year possible for their senior year,” Hanson said. “They have invested so much into the program, and I want to do right by them. Also, for team goals, at both conference meets we want to score more points than we did last year. We’re going to focus a lot on our relays and increasing our depth.”

After living in Carbondale for several months, Hanson said his favorite thing about living in the area was the campus and the support of the community for athletics.

“My first event here was the women’s soccer game that had over 2,500 people in attendance, and I think that just shows the kind of support that the Carbondale community puts behind SIU athletics,” Hanson said.

The team’s next meet is their intersquad meet on Sept. 28 at Shea Natatorium.

Sports reporter Tamar Mosby can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @mosbytamar.

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