swim COY

Urbana boys’ swim and dive coach Michelle Zimmerman is flanked by several of her athletes Wednesday at the Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center. She’s Urbana’s first Coach of the Year in this sport.

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Why she’s Coach of the Year: After struggling with numbers and results in recent seasons, Zimmerman’s Tigers began improving in both categories during the pandemic-shortened 2021 season. Urbana brought out close to 20 athletes and competed with the likes of Centennial, Champaign Central and Mahomet-Seymour, thanks to Zimmerman’s coaching and performances from Willem Alleyne, Zach Menard, Sam Birdsley and others. The Tigers ended the season placing third in a six-team meet, also one of three programs to exceed 200 points in the event.

Zimmerman’s season highlights: “The seven weeks that we got to swim. Having a meet every week — that was a big challenge for us, but it was an opportunity for us to focus our attention in practice and then see what we can do in those racing situations. A highlight for me was the final meet that we had, our Twin City championship meet — I think Courtney (Louret at Centennial) called it the COVID championship. And our other highlight was senior night, being able to recognize our seniors. That’s a tradition, that we get to honor those kids that are leaving the team and have that closure for them. But I think 90 percent of our kids that swam that championship meet dropped time, got a PR. ... Getting them to think forward, too, of what can we do next season with a full season.”

A sporting event she needs tickets to see is ... a Chicago Cubs game. I love live baseball.

If she wasn’t a coach ... my other job is that I’m a kindergarten teacher, and so I would be planning for more learning for my students. Other than coaching, that’s pretty much how I fill my time — or spending time with my family and friends, being an aunt.

Her favorite motivational tactic is ... to really get them to focus outside of just themselves, but figure out individually how they can impact our team and having a collective goal that we’re working toward. I’ve seen that work with my athletes: striving to work together. Even though they’re individually responsible for putting in the effort, it’s getting us toward a team goal.

Her favorite subject to study in school was ... English. I was an Urbana Tiger also, and I really loved all my English classes.

Her favorite athlete is ... Tucker Dupree. He is a Paralympian swimmer, and I’ve actually had the honor to work with him a couple different times at swim clinics and learn so much from him with his journey as an athlete and as a person. He’s had a lot of impact on how I coach athletes.

Her favorite TV show is ... “Friends.” I’m a for sure ’90s kid, and that’s usually on in the background if I can’t find anything else to watch.

If she could have dinner with any three people from any time period, they would be ... Barack Obama, my grandfather — who has since passed; he was a colonel in the Air Force — and Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps’ coach, just to pick his brain on some other ideas.

What she enjoys most about coaching is ... the kids. Seeing them improve, 100 percent. The camaraderie and the team unity we build each season, seeing where we start to where we finish the season, it’s really exciting to see that transformation both as physical development with their strength and their speed but also just that brotherhood they create every season. Even this season that was so short, it was that community.

Colin Likas covers Illinois football and high school sports at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at clikas@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Colin Likas covers Illinois football and high school sports at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).

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