By Mark Jaffee, Republican-American
Naugatuck native Brendan Heller is home in the borough with his family until at least Aug. 1 as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
But the former Greyhounds football player and swimmer, who also swam at Bryant University, is hopeful of resuming his up-and-coming college coaching career when the fall season commences once campuses around the country get back to a regular routine.
Heller has every reason to be eager to get back to the pool.
In his first season as an assistant coach with the men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, 24 members of the squad qualified to compete at the NCAA Division III national championships in Greensboro, N.C.
“We were days away from going before the meet was canceled,” Heller said. “This was the most qualifiers in the history of the program. We could have scored a top-10 team finish with the men and a top-15 or so with the women.”
“It’s been a humbling experience, working with some of the best and brightest students on the team (the college is ranked fourth among engineering schools),” he added.
Though he is unsure of the early summer schedule, Heller is slated to coach his fourth season in the Fairfield County Swim League at Riverside Yacht Club in Greenwich.
“It’s starting to look more like a long-shot every day, unfortunately,” Heller said.
His athletic resume has been getting extensive in a relatively short period of time.
After four years working as the head coach and operations manager at the prep school level, Sacred Heart in Greenwich, Heller joined the Manhattan College swim program as a volunteer coach for the 2018 season.
That led to this stage in Pittsburgh.
“Brendan brings a wealth of experiences from club, high school and college aquatics and an extreme passion for working with all levels of swimmers and divers,” Carnegie Mellon head coach Matt Kinney said. “He adds a variety of strengths in coaching, teaching, leadership and recruiting to the program.”
An Army Reserve Officer Training Corps Distinguished Graduate at Bryant, Heller served in the Rhode Island Army National Guard from December 2010 through January 2017, finishing his time in the Army as a first lieutenant.
Heller also earned his graduate certificate in sports management with a concentration in sports leadership from Lasell College in 2016 and is pursuing his master’s in education, specifically coaching education and athlete development, from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is less than 300 miles away.
As a swimmer for coach Jim McKee’s program at Naugatuck, Heller helped the Greyhounds to Naugatuck Valley League championships in 2007 and 2008.
“Although I love coaching, nothing quite compares to the battles of the NVL and the intensity of the championship meets battling it out for a title,” Heller said.
Heller’s brother, Trevor, was also a key member of the Greyhounds’ program from 2007-10, helping the program to four consecutive NVL crowns. Trevor is serving in active duty with the U.S. Army and is a captain and is stationed in Fort Sill, in Lawton, Okla.