By Emily Sampl//Contributor | Thursday, August 17, 2017
The Mason Manta Rays in Mason, Ohio are a relatively new program at just 14 years old, but they’ve certainly found a recipe for success in a short time. Led by head coach Ken Heis, who has been with the team since it’s inception, the team has been piling up accolades recently, including a nomination to the 2017 FINA World Junior Championships Team by Carson Foster, a win at the 2017 NASA Cup by the Manta Rays women’s team, and a 2015 FINA World Junior team qualification by Ashley Volpenhein.
The Manta Rays also finished seventh among the Silver Medal clubs in USA Swimming’s Club Excellence program for 2017. With a supportive culture and community, a revamped dryland program and focus on fun, the team is better than ever, as Heis explains in this week’s Club Excellence spotlight.
1. Staff. While our program is only 14 years old, each of the lead coaches of our 13 different practice groups has been with the Manta Rays for over 10 years. All of them have embraced our team-wide goal, which is the constant pursuit of excellence, not only in the development of fast swimmers, but also good people. Our long-standing staff is the heart of the team. They provide the longevity, stability and enthusiasm to bring all swimmers along on the path to excellence. And, we all happen to like each other.
2. Community Support. We are a City of Mason Parks and Recreation program that operates out of a competition pool we share with the local high school. The City of Mason supports and empowers their coaches to make decisions in the best interest of the program. The city and local school district also collaborate well to support all of the different programs using the pool.
3. Culture. Several years ago the positive culture of our highest group began to spread like wildfire. We have a culture of showing up early for practice, warming up to swim before practice, being excited about working hard, encouraging teammates and being proud to wear our cap in individual events and especially relays. Our older swimmers have begun to mentor our younger swimmers, providing a top to bottom connection within the program.
4. Dryland. Dryland training is an integral part of the program. A few years ago we brought in dryland consultant Vern Gambetta to help us develop a comprehensive and progressive “8 to 18” dryland program. Our kids are not only strong and fit, but the dryland program has “bullet proofed” our athletes from injury. It also provides a different element of fun for our athletes.
5. Fun. We always look for the fun - in working hard, in getting better, in making lifelong relationships, in seeing yourself look good, or silly, in an underwater video. We’re serious about swimming, but we don’t forget that what keeps our swimmers wanting to put in all the time and effort is the fun, and we are conscious about keeping it fun, too.
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