Cavalier Corner

June 2012

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SWIMMING IN SUCCESS to the top of the ACC and making UVa one of the top swimming and diving programs in the entire country, he thinks maybe it is a wonder any of it happened. After all, Bernardino was practically a W kid when he started out as the Cavaliers' coach back in 1976, first as an assistant be- fore soon becoming the head man in 1978. He was less than two years removed from his time as a Virginia student-athlete, and success in the coaching ranks didn't come right away. "It took a while to build it," Bernardino said. "We didn't win our first title until my ninth year as a coach. Whether or not there is that kind of patience left in athletic ad- ministrations to give coaches that kind of an opportunity or not, I don't know. There's a bigger premium placed on winning quickly in today's modern athletics, but fortunately I came around at a time when you could grow a program, and I think that's what we had to do. "We had to grow this program and once we got over that hump we were able to pro- duce consistently good teams, both at the elite level of the ACC and then subsequently at the top level nationally." By the early 1980s, Bernardino was see- ing the kind of improvement that showed him the squad was moving toward becom- ing the program it is today, with increased depth in most events and an ability to com- pete with the top teams in the ACC. By the next decade, the continuity in the coaching staff and hard work from both coaches and athletes was seriously paying off. "We were not very good in 1978 when I started, and I feel like it took us to about the 1982 or 1983 season to be what I would call a good team," Bernardino said. "I wouldn't say we were a great team. I wouldn't say we were a consistent team. We were just a good team. HEN LEGENDARY Vir- ginia swim coach Mark Bernardino looks back on more than three decades of leading the Cavaliers "We had some good individual athletes who were enjoying some success, but we had to learn how to transition from indi- vidual success to team success, and I think that took a little bit of time for there to be a competition within the team itself that drove the team to higher levels of success. Com- petition that was good competition, where athletes pushed athletes to be better than they thought they could be. "Once we had that going, where it was a competitive practice pool day in and day out with people working really hard to be the best or the second best in their event on this team, that's when I started realizing and began to know we were turning a corner and becoming a team that could compete on the national level year in and year out." The women's program, which was estab- lished just before Bernardino returned to The Grounds as a coach, was first to reach Head Coach Mark Bernardino Has Built A Championship Program BY SHANE METTLEN Third-year Meredith Cavalier (left) and first-year Ellen Williamson, who both earned All-America honors in the 200 backstroke this year, are among more than 30 athletes Bernardino is preparing for a shot at the 2012 Summer Olympics. PHOTO COURTESY UVA national prominence, and it wasn't long before the men followed suit. "We had success earlier on the national level with the women than we did with the men, but then both programs made what I feel like were pretty significant moves nationally in the late '90s and through all of the 2000s to this point in time," Bernardino said. "I personally, and I think our athletes do too, take a lot of pride in consistent ex- cellence. We've consistently been a top-15 program for both teams. We've consistently produced NCAA finalists and All-Amer- icans. We've consistently produced ACC championship teams." Bernardino has won a total of 25 ACC titles — 15 with the Cavalier men and 10 with the women. That includes the past five championships on both the men's and wom- en's sides. The men have finished in the top 15 at the NCAA Championships each of JUNE 2012 ◆ 23

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