Girls swimming: Fairview’s culture, tradition breeds excellence

  • David R. Jennings / Staff Photographer

    Fairview's assistant coach Jen Koschmann, left, talks to head coach Bob Smartt during the Boulder County Invitational Girls swim meet on Jan. 23 at the Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center in Thornton.

  • David R. Jennings / Staff Photographer

    Fairview's Riley Tapley cheers on her teammates in the 200 yard medley relay during the Boulder County Invitational Girls swim meet on Jan. 23 at the Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center in Thornton.



Try walking around the deck at the South Boulder Recreation Center on a given weekday afternoon, say around 4 p.m. If most of the Fairview girls swim team is in the water by then, consider yourself lucky.

You might actually be able to make your way around the pool.

They often say strength is in numbers, and the Knights have proven that time and time again under the direction of coach Bob Smartt. This year’s team, one expected to contend for a Class 5A state team championship in roughly three weeks, has reached an unprecedented plateau.

A Colorado program-most 125 girls suit up for FHS, and that head count simply astonished first year assistant coach Caroline Patterson, a former Fairview swimmer herself from 2007-11.

“When you’re close to 130 … it’s shocking, and the fact that Bob manages things so seamless is impressive,” Patterson said.

Depth is the FHS mantra, and this year Smartt had a wild idea to challenge his team: win two huge meets in one day. That was back on Dec. 19, and the challenges were the Oly Invite hosted by Gateway and the Coaches Invite at Veteran Memorial Aquatic Complex. Fairview won each rather handily.

Only a team that’s doing things right could pull off such a feat. Only a team that has established a solid base can grow so exponentially.

Fairview senior Sandra Freeman saw it at an early age, and Patterson still appreciates the uniqueness of the program even after going on to swim at Kansas.

“I started swimming when I was about 6 years old, and by the time I was in sixth, seventh grade I was already looking forward to getting to Fairview and swimming here,” said Freeman, who made her Olympic Trials cut in the 400 individual medley this past July. “We’re all family and there is so much support. The culture is an amazing thing to be a part of.”

“For as long as I can remember, Fairview swimming has really prided itself on being a really cohesive place and a (program) where everybody has somewhere they fit in,” Patterson said. “Everyone can find a niche. When you come to Fairview swimming you are part of the team and you are welcomed in right then and there.”

For Smartt, there are a number of factors that have gone in to the team’s growth. He credited the school’s academics as a draw first and foremost, and then went on to highlight the Boulder-area swim base fostered by three club teams — Boulder Swimming, Flatirons Athletic Club and RallySport. The Boulder Summer Swim League also has about 1,600 kids, which Smartt said provides a great introduction to competitive swimming.

Then, there are his assistants.

“We’ve been really lucky to have assistants that have strong backgrounds and the latest training techniques,” Smartt said. “I mean, I’m 61 years old. These assistants bring in so many new ideas from their college programs, and that’s just so helpful to keep us going.”

Smartt readily admits there are challenges with catering to the needs of every single girl but that is certainly a goal of the program’s. That’s also part of the reason why they practice 11 times a week.

“At the afternoon practices we have four to five coaches on deck,” Smartt said. “We try to have enough coaching available to be able to do specialized training. You don’t want a one-size-fits-all coaching system, because it is such a specialized world now.”

The results speak for themselves. While FHS has produced 32 state champion swims between individuals and relays since 1975, the Knights have not had an individual state champion since both Abbie Houck and Kourtney Fosse took title in 2011.

However, since then the Knights have placed second as a team once and third twice. The numbers will continue to help the Knights in the coming years, as CHSAA will introduce Class 3A swimming in 2016-17 thus altering the landscape of the 5A and 4A classifications.

As for this year, a second state team title is well within reach.

Which will make for an even busier pool deck at the South Boulder Rec on a weekday afternoon.

Adam Dunivan: or