Updated: Mar 5, 2021
A longtime member of Salisbury University athletics bids her farewell in May.
Longtime Salisbury University men’s and women’s swimming coach and Assistant Athletic Director Jill Stephenson will be retiring at the end of the spring semester.
Stephenson enjoyed 26 years at the helm of the men’s and women’s swim teams as the longest-tenured and winningest coach in SU swimming program history. She collected 211 meet wins and eclipsed the 100-win mark for both the men’s and women’s swim teams.
Stephenson has been named a two-time Capital Athletic Conference (now Coast-to-Coast Athletic Conference) Coach of the Year during her career.
During her tenure, the Sea Gulls record book has been constantly rewritten with over 100 new records since 1995.
Before her time at SU, Stephenson was the head coach for the men’s and women’s swim teams and the cross-country teams at Olivet College in Michigan for six seasons.
Prior to her coaching days, Stephenson was a four-year letter winner for the Northern Michigan University swim team. She graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science in physical education.
Stephenson said she originally planned to teach, but soon realized she wanted to coach.
“I taught middle school for one year and I knew that was not my life’s calling, so the next best thing was coaching,” Stevenson said. “My intent was always to coach anyway, but the middle school stint solidified that.”
When Stephenson first arrived on the shore to interview for the head coach position, she said the area was like her roots in Michigan and enjoyed it.
“I was looking for a position that was similar to what I did in Michigan and when I came out here to interview," Stephenson said. "Not only was it a similar position, but also the area was very similar to Michigan, so I really liked it.”
Kyle Russell and Ellen Berry are Stephenson’s last two seniors as the head coach. They both expressed how grateful they are for the past four years under Stephenson’s coaching.
“I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to be coached by Jill and to be [one of] her last two college seniors that she’ll ever coach is so special,” Russell said.
Berry said she was unsure how long she would be on the SU swim team when she arrived on campus.
Despite that, Berry explained how she has benefited from staying on the team for her full college career.
“Being on the swim team has brought me so much closer to Jill and so many of my other teammates that I never would have met if I hadn’t continued doing this, so it has been a major part of my life for the past four years,” Berry said.
Stephenson’s final season at the helm of the swim teams got off to a rocky start. The coronavirus led to most athletic programs being halted temporarily, and the SU swim team was no exception.
Additionally, there were also renovations to the pool in Maggs Physical Activities Center, which left the team without a place to practice early in the shortened season.
Stephenson said the team’s first real training in the pool did not come until January. She explained that for the first month of the season, her teams had to find wherever they could to do dry land training and calisthenics.
Starts and stops in practice due to a few cases of COVID-19 and holidays prevented Salisbury from getting much practice in before the new year.
Despite the countless setbacks, the team broke seven records this year. Stephenson praises her teams from this past season for all that they had to put up with.
“We started the season back in October with no pool, so we spent our first month doing stuff outside,” Stephenson said. “We had no practice place so we practiced wherever we could find a spot and we did dry land training and calisthenics … then the pool opened, and then we had our first couple cases of COVID-19, so that shut us down for the week. And then we come back and set seven records, unbelievable, I would have never guessed that we could do that.”
Berry praised not only Stephenson, but Salisbury for the great job she felt they did in managing COVID-19 to prevent the athletes from missing out on their seasons this year.
In addition to being the head coach of both swim teams, Stephenson is also the SU aquatics director and assistant athletic director. Stephenson said while all her duties may be more difficult to manage during certain times of the year, it has never been too much for her to handle.
Reflecting on her greatest memories here as Salisbury’s head coach, Stephenson said she cherishes all the awards the team has won over the years such as Swimmer of the Year and Swimmer of the Meet and traveling to the NCAA championship with some of her athletes.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything, the people that I’ve met and the people that I’m still in touch with … it’s been a great ride,” Stephenson said.
In the eyes of Russell, Stephenson has already cemented her legacy as an all-time great here at Salisbury.
“She is a legend and an amazing coach and will live on forever as a coach here,” Russell said.
By BRANDON STARK
Photo courtesy of SU Sports Information.