Kaisla Kollanus, the BIG EAST Women's Most Outstanding Swimmer, leads way for Wildcats with seven top-three finishes
Head Coach named Women's Coach of the Year; Kaisla Kollanus named Women's Most Outstanding Swimmer
Teams add 10 women, 10 men
Hardie named Most Outstanding Swimmer while head coach Rick Simpson named Women's Coach of the Year
Women's team takes first in 200 medley relay, 800 freestyle relay
During his time as head coach of the Villanova men's and women's swimming & diving programs Rick Simpson has made his mark as not only a successful coach, but also has broadened the program's recruiting horizons both nationwide and internationally. He is in his 16th year with the Wildcats in 2015-16.
In the past five years Simpson has seen the Villanova women's swimming & diving team elevate to become one of the top BIG EAST programs thanks to an influx of both local and international talent. The pinnacle of the Wildcats' improvements came at the 2014 BIG EAST Championships when the women's program won 14 of 18 events to take the conference championship for the first time since 1996. In total, 18 Wildcats were named to the All-BIG EAST Team at the conclusion of the Championship, including 12 women and 6 men. Ben Smith (48.84) broke a 25-year-old record in the 100 butterfly which was previously held at 49.04. At the conclusion of the 2014 campaign, Simpson was named 2014 Big East Coach of the Year and Villanova Sophomore Fiona Hardie was named Co-Big East Swimmer of the Year.
One year prior, both programs collectively shattered 11 program records at the 2013 BIG EAST Championships. The women placed fourth at the event, and two Wildcats were chosen to compete in the NCAA Championships. Hayley Edwards won the 1650 freestyle title, breaking a Villanova record set by Olympic swimmer Maddy Crippin.
Edwards and Erin Malone were selected to represent the Wildcats at the NCAA Championships. Malone produced the first team point in nine years for Villanova, finishing 16th in the finals of the 200 breaststroke. Edwards broke the school record she had set the month prior at the BIG EAST Championships, registering a 2:09.45 in the 200 breaststroke.
The recent progress for the Wildcats was on full display when it counted most during the 2011-12 season when they secured a fifth-place finish at the BIG EAST Championships and in 2010-11 season, as Villanova surged to a fourth-place finish in the team standings at the conference meet. During the 2010-11 conference meet, the Wildcats set six school records and tallied seven All-BIG EAST performances in six different individual events.
The 2011-12 BIG EAST Championships proved to be another tribute to the Wildcats' success under Simpson. Edwards and Tammadge dominated the 1650 freestyle, as both girls finished in top-places, giving Villanova a second-place (Edwards) and third-place title (Tammadge) in the event. Edwards also finished third in the 200 butterfly and fourth in the 500 freestyle at the conference championships.
Edwards' success during the regular season and at the BIG EAST Championships qualified her to compete in three NCAA Championship races. In the relays, the 800 freestyle team consisting of Edwards, Elphick, Tammadge and Heider earned Villanova a second-place title at the conference meet.
Over the course of four days at the BIG EAST Championships in the 2010-11 season, Malone broke long-standing school records in the 100 and 200 yard breaststroke, as well as the 200 individual medley. In addition Hayley Edwards repeated as the conference champion in the 1650 freestyle, giving Villanova a title in that event for the eighth time in the last 12 years.
The men's team also has gotten steady contributions from the 2010 recruiting class and has followed up that momentum with equally strong groups of newcomers over the past three years. The Villanova men placed eighth at the BIG EAST Championship, the best finish by the squad since 2000.
Of all the success that Simpson has had at Villanova perhaps his most noteworthy achievement has been the development of the Wildcats great tradition in the distance freestyle events. That tradition has continued most recently with Hayley Edwards winning three BIG EAST titles in the 1650 free, while Jenny Somerville (2003-07) previously won the event at the conference championships all four years of her career. Somerville also qualified for the NCAA Championships three times in the 1650 free and finished as high as 22nd at the national meet.
At least one Villanova distance swimmer qualified for the NCAA Championships in nine of Simpson's 13 years as head coach, while a Villanova swimmer has captured the BIG EAST title in the 1650 free eight times in 13 seasons. Two different women have earned All-America honors under Simpson's guidance. Maddy Crippen was an eight-time All-American for the Wildcats and Becky Koch received All-America recognition on two occasions. Crippen competed in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia after her freshman season and her sophomore season was Simpson's first on the Main Line. Under his watchful eye Crippen earned All-America honors as a sophomore in the 400 IM, 500 free and 200 breast, while Koch was an All-American in the 500 free in 2003 and the 400 free one year later.
Simpson's success at international recruiting has brought in numerous talented swimmers from around the world. The women's team currently has one swimmer each from England, Germany, Finland and Israel.
Villanova swimmers have also gone on to international success during Simpson's tenure. Following the 2012-13 season, Simpson and Roxy Tammadge traveled to Kazan, Russia for the World University Games. Tammadge represented South Africa in the 200, 400, 800 and 1500 meter freestyle events while Simpson served as an assistant coach for South Africa.
Kristina Lennox, a 2007 graduate, competed for Puerto Rico in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China as well as the 2009 FINA World Championships in Rome, Italy. During the 2009 meet she set a national record in the 200 meter freestyle, breaking a mark that had stood for 18 years while winning her preliminary heat.
Following the 2010-11 collegiate season Simpson accompanied team members Roxy Tammadge and Natalie Elphick to South Africa as they competed in the South Africa Nationals. Both were chosen to represent their home country in the World University Games in Shenzhen, China and Simpson served as a member of the South African coaching staff at those games in August, 2011. During the competition both Tammadge and Elphick swam legs of the 800 meter freestyle relay which set a new South African national record.
After the World University Games, Tammadge was selected to compete at the All-Africa Games in Mozambique where she won five medals, including individual gold in the 400 meter freestyle in addition to gold medals in the 4x100 and 4x200 meter freestyle relays.
Prior to being named the Villanova head coach, Simpson spent three years at Seton Hall as the head coach of both the men's and women's teams. During the 1999-00 season, he led the Pirates men's team to a .500 record in dual meets for the first time in program history. Simpson also coached Peter Economou to a BIG EAST title in the 100 butterfly in 2000, making him the first Pirate in seven years to win a league championship.
Simpson graduated from Rutgers in 1990 and spent three years as a graduate assistant coach at his alma mater. During that stint, Simpson was an assistant coach in 1992 for Team Foxcatcher, where he assisted in the training of four Olympians while also coaching Team Foxcatcher at the 1992 National Championships in Mission Viejo, Calif.
Simpson received his first international coaching experience as a member of the USA coaching staff at the Second Military World Games in Zagreb, Croatia in 1999. The team he coached consisted of several current and former world record holders and Olympians.
In the fall of 1992 Simpson became an assistant coach for the United States Military Academy at West Point, where his primary responsibilities included serving as the recruiting coordinator and coach for all sprint and middle distance swimming events. After one year, he returned to Rutgers as a fulltime assistant coach and the Scarlet Knights recruiting coordinator, a position he held until being named the interim head coach in 1996.
During his time as head coach of the Seton Hall programs, Simpson served as the founder and executive director of Varsity Swim Camp, Inc., and as founder and head coach of the Seton Hall Aquatics Club. He is currently the director of Wildcat Swim Camp at Villanova, which offers a number of programs on campus each summer.
Simpson graduated from Rutgers in 1990 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental and Land Use Planning. He currently resides in West Chester, Pa., with his wife, Tara, and three daughters Madeline, Megan and Maeve.