NAUGATUCK — Taking the reins of a team from a former coach can be a daunting task, but there isn’t enough preparation, and almost no qualifications, when you are filling the shoes of a legend.
As much as former Naugatuck boys swim head coach Jim McKee may hate to admit it, when you win 626 swim meets (386 boys, 240 girls), 24 NVL titles (16 boys, 8 girls) and a state championship in 42 years patrolling the pool deck that resume equals legendary status.
Dan Knepple, who took over for McKee as head coach of the Naugatuck boys swim team this season, has taken it all in stride, with a little help from his predecessor.
“Jim McKee has been very helpful with information on all of the returning swimmers, and we meet and talk about the team and strategies,” Knepple said. “I have a few things I’m putting into the program, but for the most part Coach Jim did not leave me empty-handed.”
Before taking the job at Naugatuck High, Knepple received a great indoctrination into the successful atmosphere that McKee created over four decades. Knepple spent the last two seasons as the assistant girls swim coach at Masuk High School in Monroe under head coach Mark McKee — Jim McKee’s son.
“Spending those two seasons with Mark McKee helped to prepare me to be a head coach,” Knepple said. “Mark kept giving me more and more duties, from building the lineups to all the other administrative tasks, so I had a pretty good handle on what to expect.”
If there were any butterflies before the first meet of the season against Watertown in mid-December, Coach Knepple didn’t show it. He methodically patrolled the pool deck at Watertown High School, keeping track of everyone’s times and offering encouragement along the way.
The Greyhounds were victorious over Watertown in the season-opener, giving their new head coach his first career win. Naugy, which is armed with 11 seniors and 10 juniors, is the three-time NVL runner-up, and there should be quite a few more wins to follow for Knepple.
“I have a great group of seniors to help lead the way. I couldn’t have asked for three better senior captains. Austin Herb, Joe Rafala and Dale Wakeley have really helped to make this an easy transition,” Knepple said. “They make sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to. They are really good motivators and even make sure everyone has a ride home from practice. That allows me to focus on the fine details to help this team succeed.”
It also helps that Knepple experienced what his swimmers are going through not that long ago.
Knepple swam at Oxford High School, where he graduated from in 2013. He went on to swim at Montclair State University in New Jersey, setting team records in the 1000 and 1650 freestyle during his collegiate career.
“I think it helps me that I have been in their shoes recently and know what they are going through as far as competing, and can relate to them,” Knepple said. “I have a good grasp on how to train newer swimmers in their stroke work and know how to push the more experienced ones who are at the top of their game.”
The Greyhounds return to action today against Masuk after a two-week break between meets. As Knepple continues to settle into his role and the season, his goals for the team are simple.
“The goal for this season is to continue the success that this program has had over the years,” he said. “My practices and routines are a little different than what they may be used to, but we still have the same goal to win every meet that we are in.”