Some 45 boys and girls have joined the new non-profit Purple Valley Aquatics club to pursue competitive swimming under the tutelage of Williams College varsity swim coach Steve Kuster
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — For the area's newest youth sports program, things are going swimmingly.
Williams College varsity swim coach Steve Kuster started Purple Valley Aquatics this year to give boys and girls another outlet for instruction and competitive swimming opportunities.
So far, youngsters have taken to PVA like, well, like fish to water.
"Right now there are 45 kids in the program from 5 years old to 18," Kuster said recently.
"It's a non-profit program, so we were trying to keep it running and keep costs reasonable, which is difficult to do. I think 25 to 30 is what we were expecting. Having 45 is great. I think it's a really good start.
"It's nice to see a vision come together."
Kuster said he has been thinking about the idea of a club team for Williams' Carl R. Samuelson and Robert. B. Muir Pool for years, and this year he felt the pieces were finally in place.
"Until this year, it didn't seem like the time was right, mostly based on the coaching in the area," he said. "If I started this team, who would be there to help me?
"A new assistant coach, Nick Stone, joined (the Ephs) and was very interested, and another woman who moved into the area, Karrie Honecker came on board. As far as getting it started, that was one of the biggest pushes: the fact that there were good coaches in the area who were excited about doing it."
Of course, Kuster himself brings a wealth of experience to the table. As head coach of the men's and women's swimming and diving programs at the college, he has helped build the most dominant program in the New England Small College Athletic Conference and trained NCAA individual champions.
Honecker helped develop 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist Lauren Perdue at the Greenville Swim Club in North Carolina. Stone is a former conference champion at Hope College in Michigan and a former assistant coach at Ithaca College.
That roster of coaches is what convinced Williamstown's Charley Stevenson to bring his two daughters, 7 and 9, to Purple Valley Aquatics. Each had previous experience swimming competitively, and their enthusiasm for the sport has only grown this season, Stevenson said.
"We really got into swimming because we wanted the kids to swim well, but they got excited about the team aspect and the competitive aspect," he said. "We know a lot of the people involved (with PVA), and we were excited about it.
"We were perfectly happy at the YMCA, but when the opportunity arose to change leagues and have the kids with the coaching staff the caliber that Purple Valley Aquatics offered, it was an exciting opportunity to pursue.
"The kids love it."
It did mean one big change competitively for the Stevenson girls and others who moved to PVA. Instead of swimming in dual meets and three-way competitions, the PVA club goes to large regional meets on the weekends at places like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Smith College and White River Junction, Vt.
"It was certainly an adjustment, coming in and getting a sense of playing 'in the big leagues,' " Stevenson said. "At the first one, the kids were intimidated."
But that feeling was short-lived.
"The great thing about swimming is it's a team sport but it's focused on individual performance," Stevenson said. "It's not, 'Did I win a ribbon?' but, 'How did I do against my performances in the past?'
"The standard isn't, 'Can I beat that child?' The standard is, 'What can I do to improve myself?' "
Not everyone who swims for PVA swims competitively, and not every child comes in with competitive experience. But it is not a learn-to-swim program, either - at least not yet.
Kuster said the baseline requirement is to swim a lap of freestyle and a lap of the backstroke.
"Aside from that, there's no need to be elite or anything like that," Kuster said. "We've had tons of people who played around in the pool and knew some strokes but were doing organized swimming for the first time.
"This past weekend at Union, a lot of kids who never raced before did it for the first time."
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