Friday, April 20, 2018
Sports

Lakewood basketball coach Necole Tunsil out to conquer new sport: swimming

ST. PETERSBURG — Necole Tunsil races from one Lakewood High practice to another.

Her assistants come over to show her a new diving technique, not a flop by one of her girls basketball players on the court but one that involves twists and turns by an honest-to-goodness diver.

Meet Necole Tunsil, swim coach.

"I don't know what I got myself into," she said. "I must have lost my mind."

Tunsil surveys the dive before offering her technique.

"There was a little bit of splash there. I like it," Tunsil said. "I'm just kidding. I know you're not supposed to have any splash. You kept your feet together. That's good. I'll mark it a 10."

Tunsil knows she is a fish out of water. She made her mark as dominant player in girls basketball, leading Lakewood to a state title in 1989 before returning to her alma mater to embark on a successful coaching career that includes a state title in 2011 and runnerup finishes in 2013 and '17.

This season, she adds swimming to her coaching duties.

Tunsil admits she has never gone to a swim meet before this year. In fact, she did not even consider it a sport.

"I thought it was too wimpy," she said. "I mean, there's no contact."

Lakewood administrators could not find anyone to be the head coach. Without one, there would be no swim program.

"I'm pro Lakewood and I'll do anything to help the school, even if it means coaching a sport I know nothing about," Tunsil said.

Tunsil made sure she had company at the pool. She invited her girls basketball players to come out for practice. Then she informed them that they were on the team.

"At first I didn't know I was actually going to be on the team," said Macey Zeh-Arndt, a sophomore forward. "Coach just said we were having pool practices. So I thought that could be fun. When I got here, she said, 'Oh, by the way; you're on the swim team.' I looked around at my teammates and they said we didn't really have a choice."

Tunsil had a plan. She enlisted her basketball players to give the swim team more depth. Before, the Spartans had about a dozen swimmers. With better numbers, they can accumulate points to stay competitive in meets.

"I told my basketball players if they're out here they might as well swim and if they're swimming they might as well compete," Tunsil said. "They're not going to finish first, second or third. But they can get fourth, fifth, sixth and so on. And those are points we can use."

At practice, the girls plunge into the deep end of the pool.

"I'm going to drown," one of them says.

Tunsil barks out instructions, telling them to swim laps using the four strokes (butterfly, breast, back and freestyle).

"Lord, help me," one swimmer yells.

"Why are you calling out for the Lord? He can't help you right now," Tunsil counters.

Last week, the Spartans had their first real meet against Northeast. The girls trailed by three points heading into the final three events. Zeh-Arndt took third in the 100 back, a stroke she picked up weeks ago.

"I surprised even myself with how well I did," she said.

Tunsil even stood back in wonderment on how everything has unfolded.

"I'm at a swim meet and I'm coaching against Brooke Bennett, a freaking Olympian," Tunsil said. "I never could have imagined that. And I've told these girls, 'Who knows. Maybe you'll swim in one of these meets and go up against a future Olympian.

"How cool would that be?"

   
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