By STEFAN GESTWICKI
OBSERVER Sports Reporter
The Dunkirk High School boys' swimming and diving program has seen its numbers steadily decline over the past few years and has been led by four head coaches in the past five years.
OBSERVER?Photo by Stefan Gestwicki
New Dunkirk swimming and diving coach Bryan Westling instructs one of his athletes at practice. Westling takes over the program after being a member of the team in high school.
Enter Bryan Westling - a key member of the program from the time he was in middle school until he graduated in 2006 and a man who continues to work as a lifeguard and swim instructor at the school's newly renovated pool.
It seems like a match made in heaven.
Westling officially took over the program at the beginning of the month and is excited to bring the program back to relevance.
"I've loved seeing the guys' reactions when they buy into the things that I'm teaching them," he said. "You get back everything you put into this sport."
While a new start is exciting for both the athletes and the coach, everyone realizes that a powerful swimming program isn't built overnight.
"I was obviously just appointed so I didn't have much time to recruit guys at the middle school," Westling added. "But they're the lifeblood of a program. That's what builds, not just a good team, but a good program."
As he's taken over the team he was a member of just seven years ago, Westling has turned to a familiar face for guidance and support - former coach Phil Cook.
"As soon as he found out that I was going to be taking it over," Westling explained, "he and I got together so he could answer any of my questions that I had. A lot of the practices and sets that I use are things that he did with us when I was here because they worked and we had a great team back then."
"I think Bryan is going to do a great job," Cook commented. "I think he's approaching it from the right direction. He's saying the right things to his athletes.
"He worked incredibly hard as an athlete," Cook continued. "I don't see why he can't translate that same work ethic into success as a coach."
Since Cook gave up coaching the team, Dunkirk has had Aaron Pietro and Christian Torres both step in and take over coaching duties. Pietro stayed on for two years and Torres lasted just one year before taking over as assistant coach at Fredonia State.
"There's been a lot of transition," Cook said. "Finding the right person for the job and then keep that consistency is what is going to make the program successful. Hopefully having (Westling) there for a period of time will turn it around."
Westling agreed that there's been too much turnover, but wasn't convinced that it's necessarily hurt the program.
"I think everyone that has taken over the program has been highly qualified to do so," he explained. "I think what's hurt the program is a lack of youth in the program."
Swimming is certainly a sport which requires depth, something Dunkirk hasn't had in quite some time. That being the case, the Marauders know they will be hard pressed to win any of their meets this season.
"It's something I addressed with my guys on our first day," Westling said. "We're probably going to lose every meet we swim in just because of our numbers. At the same time, as much as swimming is a team sport in the win-loss column, it's just as much an individual sport whether you're swimming for personal bests or sectional qualifying times.
"We may not win any meets, but our goal is to win every race that we swim in."
Clearly Westling knows what he's up against. In time, he hopes to start a modified program and recruit athletes from the football and baseball programs to swim in the winter season to stay in shape for their respective sports.
"I challenge anyone to come out and do what these guys are doing," he declared.