Smith leading the Catalinas

There’s no indication yet that Mandi Smith will take over as the full time head coach of the Red Deer Catalina Swim Club, but she has the qualifications, and the desire, to do so.

Nicole Cossey of the Red Deer Catalina Swim Club swam to a first-place finish in the 16 & over A final of the 200 metre freestyle at the 57th annual Freeze or Fry Meet in the Red Deer Recreation Centre’s outdoor pool on Sunday.

There’s no indication yet that Mandi Smith will take over as the full time head coach of the Red Deer Catalina Swim Club, but she has the qualifications, and the desire, to do so.

Smith was given the interim head coaching position in the middle of May when Sam Montgomery was let go when the club decided to go in a different direction.

The 29-year-old native of Grande Prairie has been with the Catalina Club for four years and having come up through the coaching ranks knows the ins-and-outs of what makes the club tick.

She moved to Red Deer four years ago and a month later joined the club. She was the junior development coach and two years ago took over as age group head coach.

“I always wanted to get into coaching, although I guess my parents had other ideas that’s way I went to university,” she said with a smile. “But I’m back where I want to be.”

She also wants to remain as the club’s head coach, which will be determined before the end of June.

“I hope so as we have a great group of kids,” she said. “But for now I’m overseeing everything with junior and senior assistant coaches.”

It was easy for Smith to move into the top spot.

“I know almost everyone, so it was an easy step,” she said.

Smith has been involved in swimming since she was six.

“I swam all the way through high school and at the University of Lethbridge, where I was team captain my fourth year,” she said.

Backstroke was her main discipline, which ironically isn’t a strength of the younger swimmers with the club.

“There’s some backstrokers among the seniors, but I don’t know why we don’t have any among the younger kids,” she said. “But mainly we focus on well-rounded swimmers. We get the kids into a little more distance events to make them well-rounded as they grow into their older bodies.”

The Catalina Club is considered a smaller club with close to 80 competitive swimmers and 20 pre-competitive kids.

With an indoor 50-metre competitive pool those numbers would grow, as would the number of top meets that would be held in the city.

“We definitely need a 50-metre pool,” said Smith. “Right now I have around 12 kids in a lane (at practice) and that’s tough to coach. There are kids who do go on and set world records who train in short course pools, but it’s not ideal. It’s also not ideal if we want to bring higher competition to Red Deer. If we had the facility I’d certainly bid on provincial championship events.”

Despite the smaller training facilities the club does have a number of quality athletes.

“We have a real strong 12 and under group and a solid 13-14 year-old base,” said Smith. “We do need more boys, but that’s coming.”

Smith points out that last year the club had only seven athletes qualify for the provincial 12 and under championships. This year they have 15. They also have over 20 competitors qualified for the provincial senior championships, which is set for the end of June.

“We’re definitely moving in the right direction and we’re a force to be reckoned with. We’re getting stronger and there’s more and more kids in finals and provincial finals,” she added.

The Red Deer club held their annual Freeze or Fry meet during the weekend and, looking at the interest from across the province, Smith can see why provincial calibre meets would be perfect for the city.

“We had over 320 athletes and great support from all across the province and Saskatoon,” she said. “Considering we have only six lanes it was great. If we had more lanes we could offer more finals and it would be even bigger.”

Meet results will be printed when they’re available.

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