It was a short step for Michele Loomis to become the head coach for the Tracy Tritons Swim Club.
With more than 25 years of coaching experience, including the past four years as head coach for the Kimball High swim team, Loomis was a natural for the position. She’s been involved with the local youth swim team since 2000, and her daughters, Michaela and Meigan, both became accomplished swimmers starting with the Tritons.
Loomis has also been the Tritons’ representative on the Mid Valley Swim League for seven years. She has served as a stroke and turn judge for both the MVSL and for USA Swimming, which includes the Ellis Aquatics Club, which develops Junior Olympic swimmers.
Tritons board president Brandon Kanner said the search began after Melissa West, who had been the coach for the past five years, moved out of town. West had been the longest-serving coach since the late Pinkie Phillips. Phillips started coaching Tracy Swim Club, which became the Tritons, in 1967 and led the program until her retirement in 2010.
“We wanted somebody that was connected to the community and was stable in the community as well. We reached out to a couple of really qualified candidates that were outside of the community, but Michelle’s name came up, and her track record of working with Kimball,” he said. “Not only that, but also in years past her kids swam with the Tritons, and her dedication during that stint as a parent volunteer just made her an ideal candidate for the team.”
Loomis said she was reluctant to take the job at first, but then she thought of the team’s needs and knew she could make a difference for local kids. She also thought of her admiration for Phillips’ coaching style.
“I feel like I just want to get back to the values Pinkie had,” Loomis said. “She had fun. The kids had fun. She was also a big proponent of making sure they swam the strokes properly. She wouldn’t move a kid along if they couldn’t swim the strokes properly.”
Loomis said that her experience as a stroke and turn judge — who can disqualify swimmers if they do a stroke wrong in competition — will enable her to help swimmers fine-tune their technique. She said that once swimmers know their strokes, they’re set to continue improving their times.
“I want them to learn to love swimming and feel like they’ve accomplished something when they improve,” Loomis said. “One of the ways to have fun is to get better. If you’re not getting better and you’re getting frustrated, then swimming is no longer fun. My thing is to make them as fast as we can and for them to get better.
“The cool thing about swimming is, it’s just you and the clock. You can make it that simple, so that every time you go, if you improve, then you won.”
Loomis plans to have a crew of seven youth coaches, including swimmers from the Tritons’ older age groups. The swim club expects to have about 200 swimmers once the summer season starts.
Joining Loomis on the coaching staff is Jennifer Gonzales. Gonzales coached in 2012 and 2013 and is back with the team now that her own kids, Alexis, 6, and Jaxson, 4, are competing.
Gonzales competed as a swimmer at Livermore High School. She has coached at Chabot College and San Jose State University and with the Pleasanton Sea Hawks. She said the big lesson for swimmers is the value of hard work and consistent effort.
“I like knowing that I’m helping them with other aspects of life and teaching them how to work hard,” she said. “For the younger kids, I love how much fun they have in the water once they become comfortable.”
Gonzales added that she enjoys teaching kids her favorite sport even if they learn at a different pace than their peers.
“I like the challenge of being able to help somebody who is struggling and maybe doesn’t catch on the way that we’re teaching it like everybody else,” she said. “I like the challenge of being able to help that swimmer. Seeing the excitement on their face, it makes me excited also.”
So far, the only effect of COVID-19 concerns on the Tritons’ season has been to delay the start of practice, now scheduled to begin April 6 at Tracy High, with new swimmer evaluations on April 11. The first meet is at Ripon High on May 16, and the Tracy Invitational is a two-day meet at West High’s Pinkie Phillips Aquatics Center, scheduled for May 30-31.