Since taking over the program prior to last season, Essler has proven to be a tireless recruiter and a capable coach. She has already doubled the size of the roster and attracted a caliber of swimmer Milligan hasn’t had in the past.
As Essler prepares for her second season, the focus now becomes handling the prosperity she’s created. With that in mind, she recently spent three weeks working as an instructor at a swim camp at the University of Texas where she learned a lot from legendary Texas coach Eddie Reece.
In addition to winning 13 NCAA championships, Reece served as the men’s head coach for the United States Olympic Swimming Team in 2004 and 2008. Essler said she came away from Austin full of ideas and techniques that should help lift Milligan to another level.
“It was just a super, super experience,” Essler said. “Eddie Reece is the best coach in the world. To talk to him and watch him coach … it was probably the best place I could have gone.”
One of Essler’s biggest challenges this season will be coaching a roster that has doubled in size from 15 to 30 swimmers.
“The team and the practices are going to have to be run completely different than anything we’ve ever done,” Essler said. “We’re actually going to have to start dividing up practice in some way, shape or form because I can’t focus on all my athletes when I have 30 of them in the pool. It’s going to have to be a new dynamic and I’m going to have to figure out.”
While she was in Texas, Essler heard Reece talk about offering the Texas swimmers a few different times during the day when they can come in to train, which helps Reece give his athletes more individual attention. Essler said she is looking to implement something similar at Milligan in order to manage the larger roster.
In addition to shuffling the training schedule, Essler has also hired a new assistant to address the influx of male swimmers. Marshall Hardy was a basketball player at Milligan, but Essler believes his leadership attributes will allow him to be effective poolside.
“Even though he doesn’t have a swimming background, I just kind of wanted a male figure on my staff,” she said. “I felt like my boys needed a strong, athletic male to look up to and talk to.”
Hardy also has a solid grasp on designing weightlifting programs, which is a high priority for Essler after she saw the strength program Reece has at Texas.
“He’ll help me mostly in the weight room,” Essler said. “He’s going to kind of take the reigns on that in building the weight program and running that.”
As Essler looks ahead to next season, her expectations are high. She wants to place two or three swimmers in the top eight at the NAIA National Meet and expects at least a couple conference championships from her women’s team.
On the men’s side, the recent addition of Christopher Evangelista will bolster a squad that is aiming to make a quantum leap forward this season. Overall, Essler is hopeful that her swimmers can set at least 10 school records this season, and she’s also aiming to add 10 more athletes to the roster through recruiting.
The goals Essler has set for this season are lofty, but so was her quest to double the size of the program in a single year. It should come as no surprise that Essler’s work has drawn the attention of other schools, but for now, her focus is squarely on Milligan.
“I’ve had two job offers in the past couple months from different colleges, but they know I’ll be staying at Milligan for at least the next four years,” she said.