Strokes of genius: new head swim coach brings change, fresh start to program


Christi Norris

At a morning practice, head swim coach Trey Sullivan gives instruction to his athletes. “The kids are excited,” Sullivan said. “I’m excited. I don’t want to walk on the pool deck and fall asleep, I want to be excited, I want to have fun. I want to work hard and have fun.” The first swim meet will take place on Sept. 16 against Frisco’s Independence high school at the PISD natatorium.

After Title IX requirements forced Texas Tech University to cut its swim program, swimmer Trey Sullivan found himself without a team. Unable to let go of his passion, he made a streamline for East Texas State, now known as Texas Commerce, where he started that school’s first swim program.

Now the head swim coach at Prosper High School, Sullivan said he wants to take his team all the way to the state championship. The first swim meet of the season happens Sept. 16 at the PISD natatorium against Frisco’s Independence High School. With a newfound bond between Sullivan and his team, the program’s members said they look forward to competing.

“My dad had lost his job and he told me ‘I really can’t afford to send you to Texas Tech next year. We’re struggling,’” Sullivan said. “I got a job at TI at night, making computer chips. I mowed lawns on the weekend, and I just worked real hard. I made enough money to buy an old pickup truck and pay for my year at college at a small school called East Texas State.”

Sullivan said he’s spent his life around the pool.

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“I’ve been a competitive swimmer since second grade,” Sullivan said. “We see each other at our worst every single morning, no makeup, no nothing, just getting out of bed and coming to practice and working hard. That’s one thing I love about it.” 

During his freshman year at Texas Tech University, Sullivan took a swim class to get an easy A, but after the coach noticed his talent, he offered him an opportunity to help lead the class. 

“I ended up teaching the people beside me what we were doing in swim class,” Sullivan said. “About two or three weeks into it, the swim coach came up to me and said ‘listen, if you come to class a bit early, I’m going to tell you what we’re going to do that day, and you take half the class, and I’ll take half the class.’ I thought that was really cool.”

With a year of class completed, Texas Tech offered Sullivan a position on the swim team. His coach suggested to him to get a job, stay on campus and walk on to the team. 

“I missed athletics,” Sullivan said. “I didn’t know I was going to miss it so much, so I said that sounds like a great job.” 

After being offered a spot on the Texas Tech swim team, Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding, forced them to cut their program. Sullivan went home, got a job and attended classes at East Texas State University in the fall. 

“So, I got to campus early and went and talked to the track coach because they didn’t have a swim program. I was doing triathlons at the time,” Sullivan said. “He said ‘bring me your training log, and come back to me the next day.’”

The next day Sullivan went back, and the track coach offered to buy his books if he ran for the team. Sullivan said his schedule was set for the next couple of years. 

“I would run track in the morning, go to class,” Sullivan said. “I would swim in the afternoon. I’d go back to the dorm room and take a nap, do some homework. Go back and do my night practice, do the weight room — and did that for a couple of years.”

During the summer, Sullivan stayed on campus and took a lifeguarding job. The park director, interested in starting a swim team, reached out to him and offered a coaching job. Sullivan, with the help of fellow swimmer Lori Miller, started a swim club at East Texas State. 

“I stayed there and finished my undergraduate,” Sullivan said. “My coach called me when I graduated and asked me to come work on my masters and coach the track team.”  

A line of numbered blocks sit ready for use during a morning practice. Coach Trey Sullivan said he is pushing his athletes hard this year in order to reach their goals. “We’re doing more dry land,” Sullivan said. “We have to get faster and stronger. Perfecting strokes. Perfecting the turns. Perfecting the starts, just being as perfect as possible.”

Sullivan continued coaching in the summer and teaching swim lessons as a graduate assistant for the college.

“I went back on campus to pick up my last check, and they said ‘Dr. Stahl wants to talk to you,’” Sullivan said. “He was in charge of the recreation facility, and he offered me the aquatics director’s job.”

Sullivan grew the small city swim team in Commerce, Texas from 12 swimmers to 60. Once he graduated, Sullivan went to Cedar Park to be the aquatics director, but he said that he missed coaching. 

“I came back, started working on my teacher certification and took a job in Athens, Texas,” Sullivan said. “I Started their swim program, went to Tyler after that, then went to Temple and was there for 15 years and had great success. We had groups of swimmers going to state.”  

Sullivan said he’s had some great teachers and is blessed to work with some great individuals. But after nearly 20 years, he found himself as the head swim coach at the high school.

“He makes practice fun everyday for the other coaches and all the athletes,” assistant swim coach Sierra Marchand said. “So far, I think he’s done a good job of boosting team unity and team morale. He does a good job of balancing, giving constructive criticism and feedback with also being encouraging.”

Though he believes it might take a couple years, Sullivan sees state in the future of the swim program. 

“I came here not just to compete at the district level, not to compete at the regional level, but to compete at the state level,” Sullivan said. “I believe we have the product here to get to the state level and get top eight at state.”

After less than a month, athletes have already noticed Sullivan’s positive attitude and coaching style.  

“You have to have a positive coach to have a positive outcome in your sport,” varsity swimmer and senior Hannah Schulze said. “He’s already made the entire team want to be better.”

As far as training, Sullivan said he’s pushing more dry land conditioning, along with improving his athlete’s technique and attitudes.  

“Perfecting strokes, perfecting the turns, perfecting the starts and just being as perfect as possible,” Sullivan said. “Being mentally strong and being physically strong also. Attitude, I think that’s the main thing.  You can see there’s a main attitude shift.” 

Sullivan said one of his goals is for his athletes to swim more than they ever have before this year.

“At the beginning of the year he said that we were going to be doing 6,000 to 7,000 yards a day,” Schulze said. “Which is a lot for high school swim.” 

I came here not just to compete at the district level, not to compete at the regional level, but to compete at the state level. I believe we have the product here to get to the state level and get top 8 at state.

— Trey Sullivan

“Swimmers are a little crazy,” Sullivan said. “They’re just a little nuts. They get up here at 7 o’clock in the morning and run around the stadium, lift weights and then get in the pool.”

Schulze said she believes Sullivan is one of the most positive coaches the high school has. 

“He’s always trying to make us all better,” Schulze said. “Even when we’re all in a bad mood in the morning, we’ll go to the weight room, and we’ll come out happy. Because he’s all positive.” 

Both Sullivan and his athletes indicated he may have found the perfect career. 

“I’ve done many jobs,” Sullivan said. “I’ve been director of aquatics. I’ve been a general manager of a private country club. I’ve worked in warehouses, and this is not a job. This is … I don’t know. I can’t believe they pay me to do this.”

The 2020-21 swim and dive schedule follows.