Matt Ense - Rising Assistant Coach-of-the-Year

Of the fourteen individuals to help select this year's Assistant Coach-of-the-Year, thirteen selected Matt Ense to be a finalist.  It's easy to wonder what that fourteenth person was thinking but thirteen is a lucky number and if you ask Dennison Head Coach Gregg Parini, he considers himself a lucky man to have Coach Ense on his staff.  Parini's first line says it all - "Matt is simply the best assistant coach that I've had" - and this is a guy whose last two assistants have included Kalamazoo's Kathy Milliken and C-M-S's Charlie Griffiths.  But let's have Coach Parini finish his explanation of this year's Rising Assistant Coach-of-the-Year, Matt Ense:

Nomination from Gregg Parini, Head Coach:
Matt is simply the best assistant coach that I've had in my 25 years as head swimming coach at Denison University.  Of the dozen or so coaches who have worked for me as assistants between our men's and women's programs, Matt has been exemplary while consistently demonstrating and living into the qualities of honesty, integrity, commitment, loyalty, and discipline in his day to day work with our student-athletes and our staff.

On a more measurable level, Matt's contributions to our teams' successes have also been exemplary.  He is an outstanding recruiter.  The swimmers that he helped enroll at Denison have contributed approximately 76% of our team's points at NCAAs over the past three years -- a major contribution to our men securing back-to-back national titles in '11 and '12 and our women's three consecutive top-3 finishes at nationals.  As an coach, Matt is an outstanding technician and strategist in both practice and meets -- qualities that are great assets to our team and contribute immensely to our swimmers' development.

Matt's tangible and more subtle contributions to our teams' success have been impressive.  I highly recommend him for this prestigious award. – Greg Parini

In 2011, Coach Parini also nominated Matt, noting:

He is my professional confidante, providing me with important and meaningful feedback on team and personnel issues.   His devotion to the program, loyalty to the student-athletes, and diligent approach to the job have been exemplary and have established a benchmark against which all of my assistant coaches will be measured in the future.  He is simply that good.  And he is, simply put, one of the most promising young coaches in the country.

But being an effective swimming coach demands more than hard work and competence, it also requires an ability to connect with others. Matt is a young man who cares deeply about his community and the people within it.   While his ability to coach our team is a tangible way of witnessing this commitment, it’s Matt's ability to connect with people in a highly personalized way that distinguishes him from so many of his peers.  Matt is a genuinely caring and empathetic person.  It’s this quality that supersedes all others when it comes to being an effective coach.

Maybe the three most significant things that I can say about Matt are ... 1) Matt is ready to be a head swimming coach at the college level ... 2) his recruiting and coaching efforts over the past three years are a big reason why our men won the 2011 national title ... and 3) he's an outstanding ambassador for our sport having spent countless hours teaching our local youngsters in Granville how to swim and working at swimming camps around the country during his summers.

Nominations from Student-Athletes:
Please accept this as my recommendation for Matt Ense.  Matt has been with our program for four seasons and I can safely say that our teams’ successes are positively correlated with his coaching. To say Matt is a hardworking coach is an understatement; he consistently puts the team, his swimmers and their goals in front of himself. When Matt is not on the pool deck during workouts or in our chains section of dry land, he is spending hours calling recruits, traveling to swim meets to talk with prospective swimmers and parents. I believe that Matt has gone above and beyond what is expected of an assistant coach by spending time with swimmers after practices, coming to the pool outside of practice times to work on swimmers’ techniques, and watching video footage from practices and meets to get a true understanding of each of our swimmers strokes.

Personally, I was always able to count on Matt to encourage me during practices and meets. Without fail, Matt has encouraged me to push my physical and emotional limits; to become not only a better swimmer but a better person as well. To be honest, if I had not had had Matt as my coach for my four years of collegiate swimming, I do not think I would have been as successful as I was. I am indebted to Matt for his hard work, dedication and a true passion for seeing his swimmers thrive. – Hilary Callen

I have never met a coach, much less an assistant coach, who was so committed to his job, the sport, and his athletes.  Matt is a one-of-a-kind, round-the-clock coach.  He always seems to be in his office or on the pool deck, making sure the team is taken care of—recruiting future swimmers, making arrangements for travel meets, developing practice schedules, giving instructions on a set during practice, or helping a swimmer with their stroke technique.

At times, Matt is the voice in the back of my head, and I know my teammates would echo that remark.  Matt is always pushing us to hold our breath a little longer on underwater sets or to get one more rep during our dryland routine.  Matt genuinely believes in each of his swimmers, and he genuinely believes in the potential of Denison’s swimming and diving program.

In 2011, that potential was realized when Denison’s men won their first-ever national championship and the women were runner-up.  As a coach, Matt played a key role in both outcomes.  Sure, athletes ultimately determine such successes in the points that they score.  But the coaches—their dedication and their mentoring—lie behind each student-athlete and, thus, the program.  The “extra” time—early mornings, late nights, and Sunday afternoons—that Matt invests are a testament to this.  At times, he spends more time in the office and at the pool than he does at his own house.

Matt truly is committed to Denison’s student-athletes.  While swimming is the key to any of our relationships with Matt, he is also invested in our lives outside the pool as well, especially our academics.  Every year, as he pulls together the afternoon practice schedule, Matt makes sure that each of our academic needs are met first.  As a swim coach, he is committed to making us better swimmers, but he is also dedicated to making us better students—and ultimately, better people.  – Emily Hopcian