(Back) Coach Joe DeLong, Trevor Randall, Lucas Sehorn, Garrett Walton, Blake Martin, Sam Symes, Carson Constantine and Bryan Carroll; (middle) Joseph Hopkin, Toni Heyrend, Jon Chandler, Eric Nygaard, Alex Stineford, coach Kate Schmidt and coach Casey Boyle; (front) Colton Johnson, Han Jetkoski DeFries, Darian Huff, James Fleming, Buckley Martin, Eli Tesoro and Luke Gerrard. HERALD PHOTO/Mark Madia
EVANSTON — There’s been a changing of the guard for the Evanston Red Devils swimming and diving program. Joe DeLong has taken over for the departed Jason Crompton.
Crompton had to make the tough decision to leave something dear to him, for something even more dear and important. His wife, also a former swim coach, is stationed in Rock Springs in her current career-calling, along with the couple’s young son, Kiefer Jason. It was just too tough on the young couple for Jason to commute back and forth, and to rarely see his family.
Crompton held off with his declaration for the upcoming season for the longest time, trying to find any means possible to make everything work and continue to guide the Red Devils, but finally did tender his resignation, making way for DeLong.
DeLong, who has participated in many sports, knew from a young age that swimming was his passion in sports. He began competitive swimming near the age of five, as he recalls. DeLong played varsity football for the Red Devils, and swam all four years at Evanston High School. He was a senior on the EHS swimming and diving team in a certain coach’s first year of coaching, back in 2002. That coach was, of course, Crompton.
And before Crompton? Casey Boyle and Pam Christensen. And Rich Havig in middle school. It’s a continuation of one big, happy aquatics family.
Joining DeLong is the one called “mom” by the swimming and diving team athletes, Kate Schmidt, who did became a mother fairly recently, but is not nearly old enough to be the biological mother of these high school kids. Known as Kate O’Rourke back in her competitive swimming days, Schmidt will bring her four years’ worth of experience to benefit the program, and that was just as a Lady Red Devil. Schmidt was involved in the age group swimming program early on, in its heyday. Casey Boyle will again coach the divers, as he has for over three decades.
The Herald had an opportunity to talk with Crompton very recently, who, while torn, wishes all the best to his successor. It is particularly meaningful to Crompton that someone he coached is moving into the position he vacated.
“It means a lot to know that Pam, Casey, Rich Havig and me, people with a passion for the sport of swimming, have had that kind of influence on someone we coached,” Crompton shared. “Enough to give them the desire to want to coach, to give back. I know that’s how it worked for me.”
Crompton feels the program is in good hands.
“Joe has been around the sport and coached at the middle school level, and I know he knows what it takes,” Crompton said. “He’ll work the kids hard to give them their best shot at success. I’ll miss my guys, but they’re really not my guys anymore — but, in ways, they always will be. I wish Joe, Kate and Casey all the success in the world.”
Crompton thought about assisting with the Rock Springs Tigers swimming and diving program, and may still, but his workload has just been too hectic. He has had discussions with the Tigers head coach Ron Defauw, but relayed he could not offer his assistance on a consistent basis, at this time.
“So, I may just be an official,” Crompton said. “But at least I’d get to see my guys.”
DeLong recalls Crompton making swimming fun, yet simultaneously working his athletes’ tails off. He has the same memories of Christensen.
“I remember Pam telling us if we were talking, we weren’t swimming enough,” DeLong said.
DeLong has no plans to lessen the workouts or yards the team swims, continuing with two-a-day workouts throughout the season, and targeting 10,000 yards per day.
“I’m a firm believer that you cannot field a competitive program at the 4A level without having two practices per day,” DeLong explained. “We’re getting 3,000 to 4,000 yards of swimming in during our early morning workouts, and 5,000 to 6,000 after school, depending on what we have going.”
Following high school, DeLong attended Western Wyoming College, where he played soccer with Red Devils soccer assistant coach Josh Cox. He received the opportunity to return home, with gainful employment through the Uinta County School District No. 1 in the facilities and maintenance department, and as Crompton pointed out, began coaching swimming at Davis Middle School.
Many coaches throughout his career influenced his decision to follow in their footsteps. He mentioned Crompton, Boyle, Christensen, Roger Schrad, Larry Wagstaff, Garth Wagstaff and Rich Havig, who he replaced at the middle school level, “officially,” though Havig has never really left the program. He marvels at Havig’s longevity, and spoke of his penchant for seemingly attempting to “fill big shoes,” with the coaches he has taken over for, noting Havig and Crompton.
Red Devils swimming and diving had a great year in the highly-competitive 4A division last season, and witnessed a longstanding medley relay school record fall. Much of that was due to the dedication of four seniors, who stuck with the program through all four years of high school, with a strong desire to excel, and as seniors, to lead — David Mohler, Russ Whittaker, James Sitz and Keegan Haukaas. DeLong believes the foursome left an indelible mark on the program, but that he has competitors who learned from that group and are ready to pick up where they left off, mentioning Lucas Sehorn, Trevor Skinner, Garret Walton and Buckley Martin.
“I really look for those guys to take charge and demonstrate what it takes, and be leaders in our program,” DeLong said.
Walton was the first DeLong spoke of, when asked about who has potential to make a splash at the conference and state level, based on his success from last season.
“I expect him to be in the top three in the conference in the events he’ll specialize in,” DeLong said of Walton. “He’ll qualify in every event and, of course, we’ll have him do so, as the season rolls along.”
DeLong also expects Sehorn to qualify in multiple events and be competitive in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle, with Skinner being another DeLong expects to have success in the long-distance events.
“I didn’t get the chance to watch them all that much last season,” DeLong declared, “but if you know the history of our teams, it seems we don’t have a problem getting distance swimmers qualified for state. Short distance, the sprints and the more complex strokes, such as breaststroke and butterfly, sre where we seem to struggle, historically, with getting a number of kids qualified.”
Sam Symes is another hopeful, in DeLong’s estimation, who has been primarily a distance swimmer in the 500 freestyle, but who the coach believes has natural ability in the butterfly.
“We’re going to try to get Sam going in the butterfly, where I believe he can be a top-five performer, not only in the conference, but the state. We’d like to try him in the 200 IM, too, because of his ability to swim the different strokes well, and proven endurance in the longer races.”
Buckley Martin and Carson Constantine were mentioned as being counted on to score points in the distance races, and a freshman with an outstanding legacy for Red Devils swimming, Eli Tesoro, is a first-year high school competitor DeLong will work with to get qualified in the 50- and 100-freestyle, for starters, early in his career. The school records board, prominently displayed on a wall at the EHS pool, has the Tesoro name listed, in no short supply.
“Everyone knows his dad and his uncles were just outstanding swimmers,” DeLong said of Tesoro.
In short, DeLong likes the composition of his 24 swimmers, which comprise this season’s team.
“I’ve got a core group of guys that we can put anywhere we want,” he asserted. “We should be very competitive. I’d like to see them top 12, higher where they can. We want to show the rest of the state that we have a good core group of swimmers, and we’re going to come hard and try to make some noise this year.”
As far as the competition is concerned, DeLong sees the usual suspects showing the way, with one addition. He named Campbell County, “always with a deep and talented squad”; Laramie, “you can’t talk about swimming in Wyoming without talking about Tom (Hudson) and his team”; and Cheyenne East and Cheyenne Central; and while also giving respect to both Casper schools — Natrona County and Kelly Walsh — DeLong sees a strong team emerging out of a 4A South Conference opponent, and a team Evanston historically sees a lot, in Rock Springs.
“I just see a quality contingent of good swimmers from last season, and some fast younger swimmers making a mark in the Tigers program,” DeLong shared.
He may have some keen insight, having seen many of those younger Tigers compete against Evanston, while coaching at Davis Middle School.
Rocks Springs bested Evanston in about every meet last season, but the Red Devils ultimately placed higher at the culminating state meet in Gillette.
Red Devils swimming and diving opens their season tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 8, in Rawlins. The Red Devils have done so for many moons. It’s called the Rawlins Invitational; it is the Rawlins Pentathlon. Diving coach Casey Boyle has explained to the Herald how beneficial a meet like the one in Rawlins is, for accessing talent, as swimmers swim every event. DeLong wholeheartedly agreed with the notion that much knowledge is gained by coaches in a competition like the Rawlins meet.
“They swim all four 100s — the 100 back, the 100 breast, the 100 fly, the 100 free, plus they throw in a 50 free, so everyone swims five events,” he said. “It can be a really different meet for freshmen.”
This format will be completely new to some, and there are probably freshmen who will develop a case of butterflies. They may be among the best in their age group at freestyle, or maybe even specialize in breaststroke, backstroke or butterfly, but have never mastered, or really been able to even correctly swim, with the proper techniques, say, the butterfly. Getting the rhythm of performing that double-kick, for example, has so far eluded them. The thought of not just attempting to get the motions right, but swimming that stroke, in a 100-yard race?
“Most freshmen have never seen anything like this,” DeLong elaborated. “We have some who are very good at one stroke or another, and pretty bad with others. The pentathlon exposes that. We gain a great deal of knowledge on strengths and areas needing improvement. We see the good things, we see things we expect, but we see the flaws, too. I like to refer to them as imperfections, because we have time through the season to work on those imperfections.”
As most any coach, in any sport, has witnessed, there will be surprises, both good and bad. Some younger performers may thrive on competition, natural “gamers,” who coaches come away believing may have been underachieving in practice, due to the jolt and enhanced performance official competition seems to bring out in some, as opposed to its simulation in practice.
Conversely, others, who are steady performers, turning in consistent times in practice, may appear to “tank” in early competitions, as their nerves get the best of them, and they fall short of their potential. It will likely be a mixed bag for Evanston and the other teams competing in Rawlins.
“I’ve never had this many divers to work with,” Boyle said.
But having five is not a bad thing for Boyle; he’s coached that many or more simultaneously, with the girls program. The diving component is notably more youth-driven than the swimming side, made up entirely of freshmen and sophomores.
Toni Heyrend is the only returner with substantial experience. The sophomore qualified for state as a freshman and finished 13th, just missing the top 12 who compete in the state finals. Boyle refers to Heyrend as an athlete, with natural abilities for diving.
“Toni made a huge amount of progress last year, has the right skills and is very coachable,” Boyle said.
Boyle noted the high-caliber of divers in Wyoming last season, adding “but a good half-dozen or more were seniors,” then related that fact to Heyrend. “I don’t want to jinx him, but I’d sure like to see Toni in the top six.”
Jon Chandler returns with a year of experience as a sophomore, and there are two first-year divers, also sophomores, in Eric Nygaard and Alex Stineford, along with freshman James Fleming.
The pentathlon utilizes the championship format for diving, meaning 11 dives are scored, rather than six. Boyle will have updates on the progress of his individual divers, as he did with the girl divers, and it’s almost a given he’ll supply much more detail after this first competition. But early on, among the newcomers, the coach sees natural ability in Nygaard, who came out for swimming last year, but experienced shoulder problems, and this year, opted to try diving, which won’t aggravate the nagging issue as severely as swimming would.
Boyle also explained, “There will be divers who don’t have 11 dives, yet. If our new guys can get through all 11 without failing a dive, that will be extraordinary.”
Boyle does believe that three state-qualifiers and perhaps more, is certainly possible, if this years crop will put in the time and effort necessary.
Results from Saturday’s meet will appear in the Herald next week.