IOWA CITY — It was not planned, but it all came together quickly for Mandi Kowal.
When Zane Hugo announced his resignation as the head boys’ and girls’ swim coach at Iowa City High last month, a replacement had to be found — and found quickly.
Hugo, who is taking a position as Aquatics Director at the University of Wisconsin, finished out the girls’ season that ended with the state meet on Nov. 14 in Marshalltown.
The boys began practice on Nov. 9, meaning City High had to move fast.
“The day that Zane sent the email resigning, a few parents texted me to apply,” said Kowal, who was the head rowing coach for 18 years at Iowa, finishing in 2012. “If it was a normal year, there would be no way I could apply. I’m usually coaching over 200 kids a week and pretty busy from 2-7 p.m.
“The timing of the boys’ practice and when my youth running clubs sessions ended was perfect. I was open and luckily I was able to complete my coaching authorization in less than a week.”
She also may be taking over the girls’ team next fall. Kowal said there was mutual interest from her and City High athletics director Phillip Hansen about that job, but both agreed to address that position after completion of the boys’ season.
After leaving Iowa, Kowal opened TRI-Umph Today Coaching. It started with a focus on triathlon coaching, but now has programs for athletes of all ages in several disciplines.
Because of her business’s growth, Kowal didn’t have the time to consider getting back into coaching a school-based team. Ironically, the COVID-19 outbreak opened up her schedule.
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“For a few years I had been looking at possibly coaching at the junior high or high school level, but didn’t have time,” she said. “This year, with more time on my hands, I was able to complete that process. I was pleased it came together because I love the idea of working with a group every day to make a difference.”
The team Kowal inherits is talented. City High finished fifth at state last February and returns many of those who scored at state.
“Zane has created an atmosphere where guys are drawn to be there,” she said. “They know how to have fun and love to train together.”
Unfortunately, Kowal only had a week with her swimmers in the water. For the second time this year, the Iowa City Community School District went to a 100 percent online curriculum for a two-week period beginning on Nov. 16, which means no practices or competition.
“COVID-19 continues to create issues for everyone across the world, swimmers included,” Kowal said. “With that being said, we take the well-being of our student-athletes first and foremost. I told the boys that we can be part of the solution for our community so we can get back at it. Until then we need to find ways to continue working out while we don’t have practice.”
Despite the early setback, Kowal remains positive about what could be ahead.
“I think this is a lot harder for the guys then it is for me,” she said. “Some of them are seniors and would like to end on a great note, racing hard and finishing out the season. I just hope we get back because I love the race schedule, there’s a lot of opportunity in such a short period of time.”