Decades of Davin
Celebrating 20 years of success with AU’s head swimming and diving coach
At the crack of dawn, the collegiate swimmer’s alarm clock blares, signaling the call to wake for a grueling morning workout. The swimmer crawls out of bed and trudges to the pool to prepare for a mentally and physically taxing day of training. The swimmer rises before the sun and travels more yards in the pool before breakfast than most people walk in a day. The regimen requires immense sacrifice on the part of the athlete, but often overlooked in the pathway to success is the role played by the unwavering support system found in a college program’s head coach.
Mark Davin, the head coach of the men and women’s swimming and diving programs for the Eagles, nears the end of this twentieth season this spring, and his swimmers will look to his wisdom and experience as they head into the 2016 Patriot League Championships on Feb. 17. For seniors Ali Follman, Giorgio Zenere, Toby McCarroll, Lena Mentyka, Paris Wood and Jakobi Jackson, the upcoming championship represents a challenge, a celebration and the end of their collegiate careers. Follman reflects on the past four years with positive memories, both of swimming and her coach.
“In high school I didn't think I would swim in college, let alone a D1 program, so Mark really introduced to me a new world of swimming that sounded much more appealing than what I experienced throughout high school at a YMCA program,” Follman said.
Now, with three and a half seasons under her belt, the School of Communication senior who thought she was not qualified to swim in college has developed into a powerhouse breastroker, and will be an integral part of the Eagles’ medley relays at the Patriot League Championships.
“Under Mark I learned to be a more competitive swimmer and do it for myself because I deserve to swim fast,” she said.
Davin, who has coached one Olmpian and ten Olmpic trials qualifiers during his time at AU, came to Washigton, D.C.in 1995 after a successful swimming career at Florida State University. Davin previously held coaching positions at the University of California-Berkeley, Arizona State University, the Arizona Swim Devils and the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team at the United State Swimming Hall of Fame.
In his first six seasons, Davin and the Eagles competed as part of the Colonial Athletic Association, and the head coach garnered CAA Coach of the Year honors twice before AU ultimately moved to the Patriot League in 2002. While in CAA, Davin also produced four Rookie of the Year swimmers and six Swimmer of the Year honorees, in addition to coaching the men’s team to a CAA conference victory in 2001. One year later, during Davin’s Patriot League debut, he won Patriot League Men’s Coach of the Year and has since produced at least three NCAA qualifiers.
While Davin’s coaching accolades speak to his coaching talents on the pool deck, his senior swimmers paint a more personal picture of the veteran coach as they reflect on their collegiate swimming careers, which will come to a close at the end of February.
Toby McCarroll, a native of Nassau, Bahamas and a former member of the Bahamas National Swim Team, said he will remember Davin as an influential part of more than just his swimming career at AU.
“In my regular individual meetings, we have spent hours talking about classes and future life goals,” McCarroll said. “He realizes college is a stepping stone to a greater world experience and does his best to provide useful advice and encouragement to help us along our journey.”
McCarroll, who specializes in the breaststroke events, will graduate in May from the College of Arts and Sciences with honors, and he joins the nearly 200 other athletes coached by Davin who have earned recognition on the Patriot League Honor Roll. In the fall, McCarroll helped the men’s team earn a place on the Scholar All-America Team for the 42nd consecutive semester, a streak that Davin has kept alive during his tenure at AU. .
Lena Mentyka, a sprinter who hails from Seattle, echoed McCarroll’s sentiments about Davin’s personal investment in his swimmer’s lives. She reflected back on the support that Davin gave her early on in her time at AU, saying, “Mark is without a doubt the best coach I've ever had. I've been through lots of ups and downs in my college swimming career: injury, changing events, coaches coming and going. I think we get along really well and he's helped me through a lot swimming wise and in life in general.”
As the longtime head of the AU swimming and diving program, Davin has built a family on the deck and in the pool over his twenty years coaching in Bender. Paris Wood, the team’s 100-yard backstroke individual record holder and part of the record holding women’s 4x100 yard freestyle relay, said she will remember the team and coach that stood by her for the last four years.
“Under Mark I learned to be a more competitive swimmer and do it for myself because I deserve to swim fast,” -Ali Follman, senior swimmer
“Mark has a knack for recruiting like-minded people who are all very similar in personalities, so there's rarely ever conflict, which makes it a really good environment,” Wood said.
Davin prides himself on bringing in swimmers who embrace his program and work towards improvement through his workouts. Under his coaching, his seniors have dropped significant time and etched their names in the AU record books. After three years with Davin, Wood has broken three school records, won the Geico Student-Athlete of the Week Award multiple times and appeared in the championship finals at the Patriot League Conference Championship. Jakobi Jackson, another senior breastroker, has dropped fifteen seconds in his 200-yard breaststroke from his freshman to senior year. Mentyka completely switched events under Davin’s guidance, moving from the distance group to the sprint program, and she has also found herself on the Eagles ‘A’ relays this season.
While each of the senior Eagles share different memories of their head coach, they all have one small, yet favorite element of Davin: his sense of humor.
“[Mark Davin] is always down to tell a punny joke,” Jackson said, “even when they weren’t that funny.”
Mentyka agrees, adding that Davin brings wit and intelligence to the pool deck and often comes ready with a pun to entertain the team during the early morning practices or the difficult afternoon training sessions.
The successes and memories of the 2015-2016 senior class serve as just a snapshot of Davin’s illustrious career at the helm of the AU swimming and diving teams. He coached junior swimmer Caylee Watson to such improvements in the pool that she has recently been named to the U.S. Virgin Islands team roster for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Davin also coached Olympian Casey Legler, conference title winners and U.S. Olympic Trials Qualifiers including Dominic Szabo, Mark Liscinsky, Meghan Thiel, Ethan Bassett, Jessica Lidstrom, Rebecca Santos, Frank Byskov, Will Maher and Rebecca Santos. Over the course of his 20-year tenure, Davin has helped his swimmers almost completely rewrite the AU swimming Top-10 times list.
With all of those accolades, trophies, titles, and plaques, Davin is, at the end of the day, more than just a coach for the athletes who have joined and graduated from his teams. According to his seniors, he is a support system and a pillar of strength for not only for graduates, but for the entire AU swimming and diving program.
As McCarroll puts it, “time and time again Coach puts his athletes before himself.” His seniors’ words and the successes seen by many in the past twenty years are a testament to the program that Mark Davin has built on and off the pool deck at AU.
*Note: Jess Kowal is a former member of the AU swim team.