"This is my sport, my favorite thing. I love it," said Michelle May, the new head coach of the Monett Water Thrashers.
May began establishing her presence in Monett this week as the town swim team began practice for the season.
Originally from Claremore, Okla., May has been swimming for more than 10 years. She came to southwest Missouri as a student at College of the Ozarks and took the head coaching position with the Branson Waves.
In November of last year, Ginny Fuldner, founder of the Monett Water Thrashers who retired at the end of the 2008 season, called to see if May would consider the Monett position.
"I couldn't pass up the offer," May said.
May started last weekend and had to hit the ground running. The team had its first meet last Saturday in Lamar before the first practice was scheduled. Nineteen Monett swimmers competed and won fourth place in sweepstakes. Most bettered their competitive times from last season.
"Monett has a very big program. It's fabulous," May said.
There are 113 swimmers on the roster and five more away at camps. She expected the team would have about 115 going to meets.
"This is a competitive swim team," May said. "We ask them to know how to swim. We will take them as young as age 4, but they must be able to go the full length of the pool without stopping or help.
"Every year the challenge is for kids to come every morning, some at 6 a.m., and swim two miles. If they didn't want to be here at 7 a.m. on their summer vacation, they wouldn't be," May said.
"My personal philosophy is I'm always trying to better myself, to improve," May said. "I expect that from those who work with me. I see where they are at and ask them what is the next step.
"With kids, it's about them improving. I'm there to encourage, give advice and help. I can stand over them and be the voice that tells them to do it. If they really want it, it's all coming from them," May said.
Asked about her strengths, May said, "I'm personable. I have a great deal of passion and the ability to work with people, coaches, staff and kids. I have high expectations."
May's immediate goal for the season is for the Water Thrashers to win the Tri-State championship for the 10th consecutive year.
"The kids built themselves up to win it for nine years for Ginny. I plan to not break that streak," May said.
May's long-term goal is to coach on the high school level and have a year-round team in Monett.
For the summer, May is staying at the Fuldners' home. In addition to not having to drive a significant distance to work, "I have all Ginny's wisdom and experience at my fingertips."
One of the great strengths May sees in the Monett team is its parent support, something Fuldner bragged about. May did not have to wait long to see it. She has at least 10 people taking turns each week coming to the swimming pool at 5 a.m. to set up all the team's equipment.
"The parents come to practices, but they stay off the deck and let us do our jobs. They support us. That's such a rare thing," May said.
The Water Thrashers practice weekday mornings then compete most weekends, both Saturdays and Sundays, into August. This year the team will get the July 4 weekend off, due to a cancellation. The annual meet in Monett will be June 20 and 21.
May works as a school counselor and has been a camp counselor for years. This year she does not have to take another 40-hour job because of her position with the Water Thrashers. She is available to give swimming lessons.
"This job combines working with kids and swimming," May said. "I get paid to come to the pool in the morning. How fabulous is that?"