*** This article was written by Eric Boynton of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal ***
Looking to make a continued splash in the world of college athletics, Converse announced Monday that it is adding a swim team. Swimming will be the school’s sixth sport, joining basketball, cross country, soccer, tennis and volleyball.
The Valkyries swim team is expected to begin competing during the 2008-09 season.
As the college continues upgrading athletics, especially with a league affiliation in the NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas, Converse officials felt swimming was a perfect fit.
“We were talking about what was important and what we thought we wanted to add and swimming just seemed like a natural here,” athletic director Joy Couch said. “Swimmers are typically Converse-type students with very good GPAs and work hard at achieving a balance between not only being involved with a sport but doing well in the classroom and being an important part of the community.”
School president Betsy Fleming acknowledged Converse’s strong commitment to increasing the role of athletics on campus.
“With our full membership status in an NCAA Division II conference, we really want to advance our athletic program,” Fleming said. “We know college-bound women today are eager to participate in athletics, and it is a very important part of their idea of leading a balanced and fulfilling life that is tied to personal and professional achievements, challenges and goals. “With the renaming of our athletic mascot and our jump-starting a new athletic booster program, the campus community is really energized by what’s going on and wants to see our athletic program be all it can be.”
Converse already had some important components in place to make adding a swim team an easy decision. The school possesses a top-notch competitive pool, complete with locker rooms and viewing bleachers.
The Valkyries also didn’t have to undergo a coaching search with assistant athletic director Susan Kunkler available to take the reins. A Spartanburg native and graduate of Spartanburg Day School, Kunkler started with the Spartaquatics and later swam competitively at the University of Georgia from 1985-87. Kunkler has also coached the Fernwood summer league team the past four years.
“I’m very excited because swimming has been a part of my life pretty much for 25 years,” Kunkler said. “I think the sport is a perfect match for Converse. It’s really a lifelong sport for women, and we’ve got a good facility with a great campus. It won’t be hard to get swimmers to come here.”
The addition of swimming not only provides a boost to the college, but it aids Conference Carolinas in its attempt to make the sport an official part of the league, which requires five participating schools under NCAA rules. Having started competing as a full-fledged conference member in 2006, Converse became the fourth school with women’s swimming, joining Limestone, Pfeiffer and St. Andrews.
Kunkler hopes to begin recruiting by this weekend. Her goal is to have at least 10 swimmers on the roster by next season (the college swim season runs January to March) who can swim individual events all the way up to the NCAA championships, where you don’t have to qualify as a team. “Swimming is an emerging sport in our conference, and we will be on the cutting edge of that, which is a perfect opportunity for Converse to b