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ECU swimming transitions into season

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Gustavo Santos, who won the American Athletic Conference 100-yard butterfly championship last season as a freshman, is one of the key members of the ECU men's swimming team.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Friday, October 6, 2017

Matthew Jabs was not originally a verbal commit to East Carolina swimming when he was a high-schooler in the mid-1990s in Connecticut, but he changed his mind and turned to coach Rick Kobe and the Pirates and has since remained a rock-solid commitment to the team.

A huge next step in that process comes today when ECU begins its season at Navy with Jabs as a first-year head coach and the successor to Kobe, who retired earlier this year after his 35th season as the Pirates’ head coach and at No. 4 on the NCAA swimming all-time wins list. Jabs became an assistant under Kobe shortly after his ECU swimming career from 1996-2000 ended, and he officially took over as head coach July 1.

The preseason got sidetracked a bit in late August when team activities were put on hold by the athletics department while investigations were conducted by the university’s office of student rights and responsibilities and the ECU police department concerning an incident of some swimmers doing doughnuts while driving a car. The team was cleared of any alleged hazing and practices resumed. No student-athletes were dismissed from the team following the investigations, officials confirmed this week.

Upon returning to the pool, focus turned back to getting ready for the season. For Jabs, who said of the investigations that he stayed in close communication with administration and that “we followed that procedure and are just happy that we are moving on,” that meant honing in on leading the Pirates.

“Coach Kobe told me then (as an ECU signee) that once you are a Pirate, you are a Pirate for life, and that stuck with me,” Jabs said. “I don’t know if he thought I would take it this seriously, literally, but I did and it has just happened to work out and I feel very fortunate that it has.”

One of the differences Jabs has already implemented is some training sessions limited to only the men’s or only the women’s squad. Previous years mostly called for both teams to practice together.

“It was something that members of our team brought to our attention, and that they really wanted to get a little bit more of their own identity within our one family,” Jabs said.

Jabs’ coaching staff consists of two holdovers who were already with the Pirates (associate head coach Kate Moore and assistant head coach Kevin Woodhull-Smith) and two newcomers in diving coach Jesse Lyman, who was previously at Rowan University, and John Newell from the YMCA of the Triangle Area swim team in Raleigh.

The ECU men won the American Athletic Conference championship meet the last three seasons.

Jabs said sprint and freestyle events are expected to be strengths this year. Standouts last weekend at the Purple-Gold meet included a range of men from seniors John Myhre and Boleck DePawlikowski to sophomore Gustavo Santos and freshman Jacek Arentewicz.

“I feel like it is realistic, because we have a roster that can do it,” Jabs said of the men potentially winning the American again.

For the women, seniors Julie Lajoie (200 individual medley) and Vendela Norrman (200 breaststroke) set meet individual records at the Purple-Gold event in Minges Natatorium.

After traveling to face Navy, two of the Pirates’ other three October meets will be in Minges. The AAC championships are not until mid-February in Dallas.

“I want to see where we are at as a team,” Jabs said of the fall portion of the schedule. “It’s obviously important that you want to get off to a good start, because you want to build confidence in the athletes and get good vibes going and build upon that as you go throughout the season.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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