In 2014, head coach Joshua Willman celebrated his 21st season at the helm of the University of New Hampshire’s swimming & diving program. The 2013-2014 season was once again another decorated season for Willman and the Wildcats.
Willman began his coaching career just after graduation at the YMCA and U.S.A. Swimming level. He entered the collegiate coaching arena as the assistant coach for New Hampshire in 1991, taking over the program the following season when he earned his first coaching honor as the Men’s Coach of the Year. Since then, New Hampshire’s success has not gone unnoticed, as Willman has become the America East Conference’s most highly decorated coach. He has been selected America East Coach of the Year 13 times in the past 21 years (1993, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014) and ECAC Coach of the Year four times (2003, 2011, 2013 and 2014).
New Hampshire swimmers are the most highly honored student-athletes in the America East, winning 34 major conference awards including 21 Swimmers of the Year (16 America East and five ECAC), seven America East Scholar-Athlete of the Year, four Rookie of the Year, three Dave Alexander Coaches Award. During Willman's tenure, 354 swimmers have been crowned America East champions and 107 have been named ECAC champions. In total, Wildcat swimmers have broken over 246 school records, 97 America East records and 26 ECAC records.
Throughout the 2013-2014 campaign, Willman led the Wildcats to seven consecutive dual meet victories and finished the season with a record of 8-1 en route to higher postseason success in America East, ECAC’s and NCAA’s.
The University of Miami graduate earned his 17th Coach of the Year Award and brought the program its eighth conference championship in 2014. The Wildcats won the America East title for the second consecutive year and sixth in program history with a record 877 points, eclipsing their previous mark of 858 set in 2013. Led by Lauren McCandless and Oneida Cooper with 57 points apiece, UNH garnered gold in 12 events with six one-two finishes, claimed seven America East records and achieved seven NCAA provisional cuts. Furthermore, UNH rewrote four program records at the three-day meet. McCandless was selected as the recipient of the Dave Alexander Coaches Award by notching the most career points in the championship meet with 217. Furthermore, McCandless is only the fifth swimmer in conference history to win the same even all four years (1,650-yard freestyle) at the America East Championships. Katie Mann posted two league meet marks during the conference championships. Her 200-yard breaststroke (2:10.30) and 200-yard IM (1:59.12) set conference standards and qualified her for the NCAA Championships while her opening split in the 200-yard breaststroke, (1:02.17) set a program mark in the 100-yard breaststroke.
On Feb. 18, 2014, the Wildcats found themselves ranked 14th overall in the CollegeSwimming.com Division I national poll, their highest ranking in program history. Among the top-five schools were the University of Georgia (1), Stanford University (2), University of Southern California (3), University of California (4) and University of Florida (5). The following day, Mann received national recognition by being bestowed the Philip Hunsaker CollegeSwimming.com Women's Division I National Swimmer of the Week, the second time a Wildcat swimmer received the award this season. Jenni Roberts had also been previously selected Philip Hunsaker CollegeSwimming.com Women's Division I National Swimmer of the Week on January 28, after an outstanding nail-biter of a meet with Yale (Jan. 24).
At the 2014 ECAC Championships, the Wildcats registered gold four times and reset three records during the meet. Roberts claimed a conference and program record in the 200-yard butterfly (1:56.91) as well as a conference record in the 200-yard freestyle (1:48.50). Mann notched an ECAC and program record in the 400-yard IM (4:09.40). By season’s end, six Wildcat women had earned NCAA provisional qualifying time standards.
Willman earned his fourth ECAC Coach of the Year award, sharing the accolade with the U.S. Naval Academy head coach John Morrison. Mann went on to compete at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships for the second consecutive year while Roberts was selected as an alternate for the championships. Mann was highlighted in the 400-yard IM with a 19th place finish and a time of 4:10.39, the best finish by a Wildcat at the NCAA’s since 1998.
In 2012-13, Willman led the team to a 6-0 start and finished the season with a record of 7-2. As the national polls were released by CollegeSwimming.com (Feb. 21), the Wildcats earned the 19th spot in the rankings. It was the first time UNH was ranked in the top 20 in the Division I Poll. In the ensuing ECAC Championships, the Wildcats posted a second-place finish with 403 points despite not competing in relays. Willman earned his third ECAC Coach of the Year honors as Roberts and Mann were honored as co-Swimmers of the Meet.
A number of milestones in particular have marked UNH’s steady rise to the top since Willman’s arrival. In 1995, Willman produced UNH’s first-ever NCAA Division I qualifier, Denise Leckenby. She later went on to earn All-America honors in 1996, placing eighth in the 200-freestyle and 11th in the 100-freestyle. UNH went on to finish 27th in the nation at the 1996 NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships. Building on the successes of the mid-90’s, the Wildcats then won their first America East title in 1997-1998 and then repeated as conference champions in 1998-1999.
Beginning the new era in 2000, New Hampshire native and breaststroke standout Kristen Zeimetz was a finalist at the 2000 U.S. Open and participated in the 2000 U.S. Olympic team trials. In 2003, the Wildcats won their first ECAC Championship team title, earning Willman his first of four ECAC Coach of the Year honors, and continued to place near the top at the America East Championships once again. UNH tallied back-to-back America East titles in 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 while continuing to qualify swimmers for the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships. Shannon Daly and sophomore Kary Goodman both placed in the top 25 in the nation in the 200-yard breaststroke and 200-yard butterfly respectively during the 2006 campaign. UNH completed the 2006 season ranked eighth nationally in the mid-major Division I Polls. The Wildcats won the ECAC Championships in 2011 for the second time in school history, claiming the title by a 1.5 point margin, earning a first-place finish on the final event and taking the 400-yard freestyle relay in record setting fashion.
New Hampshire’s swimmers consistently swim at the elite level representing not only the United States but more recently in the international arena with Wildcat swimmers competing at Senior Nationals and the Olympic Trials for their home countries including Canada, South Africa and Denmark.
New Hampshire is consistently an Academic All-America team and swimmers have earned NCAA Academic All-American honors, post-graduate scholarship awards and ranked as high as sixth nationally for grade point average. Willman is a certified ASCA Level IV coach and has been a recipient of the ASCA Coaching Excellence Award.