By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, March 28, 2017
When she left Georgia to become head coach at Texas, Carol Capitani was excited for the opportunity. The 2013 WUGs assistant coach and head Duel in the Pool US Coach led her team to its best NCAA result yet in her tenure, a fifth-place finish at this year’s NCAAs last week. She talks about that, what she’s learned along the way, and why she credits the great coaches in her life with her success, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Fifth at NCAAs in year five for you at the University of Texas -- ahead of schedule, or just on schedule in your mind?Carol: I don’t know...Our goal was to be higher. I don’t know if there is a schedule. I had one when I got here (laughs), but then you just roll along. This year we were shooting for top four, but I can’t say I’m disappointed, because I couldn’t be prouder of our team.
2. You all have gotten so good on relays, is that something you focus on and are those part of yourprogram’s core goals?
Carol: I feel we’ve gotten better at relays. I don’t think it’s one of our strengths yet. We put together good relays this year though. We were able to use some of the same people this year, so that’s a consistency thing. It’s an honor and privilege to be on a relay. Our team has realized what a big responsibility that is. We’ve done a good job of putting four legs together.
3. Ninth at NCAAs your first two years, then 7th in 2015, and a lot of adversity hit during last year’s 15th-place finish at NCAAs -- was that something that ended up helping this year’s team?
Carol: It did help. There was a lot out of our control last year, and some in our control. Swallowing a big serving of humble pie helped us realize some things.
4. What in particular?
Carol: The things in our control is what we worked on. So it did help us because we had a chip on our shoulder and kids worked to get better. So last year was a lot of perspective, and motivation. Those challenging times are where you can dig in and learn the most. We knew where we could be better.
5. Claire Adams, a key freshman on this year’s team, was a commit last year, and the way your team handled things going wrong only solidified her decision, she told me, that’s a pretty awesome commentary to the culture of your program, isn’t it?
Carol: Claire is just a fantastic human being and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to get her here. She is a class act. She gets it. I couldn’t say enough good things about her. She makes our team better just by who she is, how she acts and what she does. That will carry her further in life than anything -- and I feel like with her, we’re just getting started.
6. Madisyn Cox already being a senior -- how is that even possible?
Carol: Her growth has been spectacular, not just her times and as an athletes, but as a person. You can only work so hard; the reason she is that much better is because of the steps she made as a person, handling emotions. That was a mental shift, not a physical shift. She could not be more fun to work with. We believe in her but more importantly, she chose to believe in herself. That’s a hard thing to buy into, sometimes.
7. How does the challenge shift after the first year or two as head coach of a program?
Carol: I was fortunate at Georgia as an associate head coach. Maybe I should have felt more like an assistant, the way we were treated and how I felt about my role, Jack (Bauerle) gives you so much room to grow and so much responsibility because he trusts you so much. So it wasn’t too difficult to become a head coach. But I have learned a lot along the way and I do feel better than I did five years ago. From associate head coach to head coach was a big step.
8. Were there any other big steps?
Carol: Actually, the biggest one was the transferring of the athletes at Texas I hadn’t recruited to ones who were part of the team I was coaching -- getting them onboard and buying into the program. You ask a lot of the student-athletes when a new coach comes in. They probably came here for a different reason than ones that I bring. People can say, “It’s so hard because that’s not your team -- those weren’t your recruits. But I said, Yes it is my team, because I am responsible to lead them now, and continue their growth and improvement in and out of the pool.” As much as I’m proud of them for buying in, that was a big thing for them. And for me. It helps at Texas because most of them chose the environment and culture of the university and city here, so I think that made it easier for me, and for them.
9. What’s one or two lessons you learned from Jack Bauerle at Georgia?
Carol: What I learned at Georgia and from Jack isn’t a lesson that we talked about, but inherently the value of being a great person. That’s what Jack is. And he is one of the most positive people on the planet. Any great coach, in any sport, has to be built on inherent greatness inside them and positivity. It’s always easy to be discouraged when things don’t come out how you want. But these kids are on their own timeline, so you can’t rush that. You keep at it, you believe, and encourage them, and first and foremost focus most on the person they can become -- the swimming part will come along from the hard work. So I learned that at Georgia, but from all the great coaches I have been around, too.
10. How much of a challenge and fun was that contending for a title every year at Georgia?
Carol: I was used to being part of a team that was always fighting for a title at Georgia Now, at Texas we have it where we always want to be in the hunt, where we’re reaching for something great -- a top four finish. We earned fifth this year, and were very close to our goal of fourth. So we’re back at it, and will work toward improving even more.
11. How has the competition conference wide, among all conferences and in effect nation-wide raised the bar -- and that truly is, despite a big challenge, great for women’s swimming, isn’t it?
Carol: There is so much parity, and that (NCAA) meet is so fast. It’s a battle every single session. It brings you to your knees. It’s brutal; you can’t understand it until you get there. That’s why it takes some kids 2-3-4 years to figure it out. There were some great teams outside the top 10, and great teams inside top 10. You have to be properly prepared, and then get some key things to go your way -- you need a little bit of luck. But there are some great teams, so it’s all about putting it together when it counts.
12. It’s been a while now, but how did helping Laura Sogar become an NCAA Champion in 2013 and the great run she had for the National Team impact you as a person, mentor and coach?
Carol: I think Laura helped our program not only because she was hands down a 100 percent vote as a captain, but being a great role model and a great leader and great person moving forward. When one of your hardest workers is your best role model and believes in what you are doing -- I just can’t say enough good things about her, because that was the beginning here, and such an important time. You can’t do anything without belief, and when the best believe, it doesn’t get better than that, because that set us off on a good road. There are rough times, there are people who aren’t always going to be happy, but you have to go through that and when you have great leadership, it really helps immeasurably.
13. How did being head coach for the U.S. women at the 2013 Duel in the Pool influence you?
Carol: It was a very cool deal. That again is timing and luck, and having the right people around you. That was a learning experience to me. It came down to, I think, a single point. I had to make difficult decisions under pressure -- and you carry those experiences in your pocket moving forward. It was more fun for me because (Texas head coach) Eddie (Reese) was the men’s coach, and he’s such a good mentor and good supporter -- he’s been at I believe every Olympics for the past five decades -- so I couldn’t have scripted it any better.
14. Also, your time as an assistant coach for 2013 WUGs, what did that do to shape you?
Carol: Every time you are on a National Team, at the time, you think about all the challenges and if you can handle that much emotional energy. But I come back smarter and buoyed up by the athletes, coaches, staff and the experience.
15. When you see someone like your former Georgia swimmer Stefanie Williams, now an assistant at Georgia after she coached at Ohio State and Missouri, advancing as a coach, how much pride do you take in that after being part of her career?
Carol: I’m proud. I think that’s why we do what we do. I’m proud of all of the people who crossed my path -- and others who are doing great things. That’s why we coach, and one of the true joys is seeing great people move on and do great things. She’s an exceptional person. And there are so many from that time, and since, who have gone onto do great things in the business world, or education -- just amazing people. That’s a constant source of inspiration for us as coaches.
16. You must get a kick out of working with Eddie Reese, but what’s something you’ve come to appreciate about him more being in the same building the past five years?
Carol: Eddie is always trying to get better. He takes more accountability than he should for everyone in his program by always trying to make himself and those around him better. He makes me feel like a million dollars. He just makes us better. I’m humbled. He tells me things, and I think I don’t know anything at times, but it helps me so much -- and he can be so honest because you know he cares so much. I was sitting next to him at practice and there was a master’s swimmer who is 60 years old, and he asked her where she swam in college, that she was so good. It just made her day! He’s always looking to encourage people. It’s a great gift he constantly shares so generously, and it makes all of us better both by hearing it and passing it onto others.
17. Other cities nationwide have such great swim clubs, but Austin is among those places where they have that, and yet swimming still continues to take off to higher levels -- what is that attributable to in your opinion?
Carol: I remember when I got hired and Eddie said, “Well, come for the pool, come to the University of Texas, but in the end, you are coming for the people here.” That’s what makes a place special -- the people. I came here and met Eddie and Kris (Kubik) -- you come for the people. And here, I was sold very early on that. Eddie always says it perfectly: “The swimming community has the best people on the planet.” And that’s true. There are people anywhere you go to swim and you see people who are as great as you will meet in any sport. It’s so easy to stay connected when you have people like this sport has. Obviously some of my best friends are in coaching, and we stand on the great coaches in this sport every step of the way -- I won’t start naming names because I’ll forget as many as I mention!
18. The women coaching in the sport continues to grow, what’s a key part of your career success been attributed to?
Carol: The support you get is important. On a personal level, I’m so important my daughters and my husband decided my career could be so important to us all. My husband and I decided we’d follow my career and work with wherever it took us. He’s been able to be amazing in his job and we are so grateful for our lives to be centered around college athletics. He has a big job, but we decided our girls being in the college atmosphere and being around these student-athletes who are such great role models for our girls was important. My kids hear these conversations and get to be around these amazing young women who demand so much from themselves.
19. I did that going back to grad school at Wyoming then in Texas with my son and I can’t believe the positive effect it had on him being around grad students and professors at a young age -- you see that in your girls too it sounds like?
Carol: We do -- it’s exactly the same thing. They get to listen to and interact with the kids at dinners or around the university. They get to meet the student-athlete who maybe didn’t get all the headlines for a swim but has a 3.8 GPA and has an amazing future lined up that she’s working hard toward, and that shapes our daughters in such a wonderful way. It also makes me appreciate how great their own parents were before they got here to Austin with us.
20. Big step for the Longhorns at NCAAs this year, and Stanford did something special, too -- you must’ve been happy for Stanford head coach Greg Meehan and Stanford associate head coach Tracy Duchac, I imagine?
Carol: They are outstanding coaches, and even better than that as people. I also like how Greg’s and Tracy’s team has taken a similar trajectory in that Greg was also hired five years ago and had to go through a lot to get the team to where it is now as NCAA Champions. So many coaches and swimmers did such a great job at that meet this year. There wasn’t a team that had a perfect meet there. But it was an incredible meet. Simone (Manuel) with those swims under pressure, Katie being such a superstar in Rio and then coming back like she did for the college season and delivering at NCAAs. All those Stanford women. And so many others. There is more joy in seeing all the progress all these different athletes made along the way. Seeing that is so inspiring for everyone moving forward.