By NICK MATOUSCH
When the Ocean City girls swimming team experienced a two-point loss to Egg Harbor Township on Dec. 20, the Red Raiders took it as a hard loss. It was their first of the season, and the girls have a long history of winning. After all, expectations are always high for these swimmers.
However, new head coach Ian Keyser was there to lend the girls some perspective.
“It wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but we are going to stay focused on bigger goals,” Keyser said. “We are going to take that as a learning experience. To be in that environment — where its packed, where the lead goes back and forth — lets use that to benefit us come the real playoffs.”
That mentality is a big selling point of what Keyser is offering in his first year as skipper at Ocean City. The third coach for the Red Raiders in the last five years, he has come in already seeing that they are more than physically capable of winning another state championship. His focus this year is to make the girls not only better swimmers, but disciplined athletes. He knows what it takes, having won state championships himself at St. Augustine Prep from 2007-2009, and competing at the collegiate level at Seton Hall University. He said he wants to pass his knowledge on to the girls, as he has done with his time with the Montville boys team and the Egg Harbor Township Seahawks.
“You can bring in all these aspects about training, but on the bigger stages it is the mental aspect (that matters),” Keyser said. “I’m offering my perspective on what it took me to succeed and giving it to them — incorporating explosive racing during practice, how to prepare for meets, anything beneficial to them. I don’t want the girls doing endless laps and have it be boring for them. Versatility in the practice of the sport is important.”
“He’s working to help push our experience,” said Ryann Styer, one of Keyser’s senior swimmers and an individual state champion in the 50 freestyle.“The custom effort he puts into our workouts makes us put extra into our sets.”
Many of the girls, like Styer, have bought into Keyser’s training, getting to know him in and out of the pool. Keyser serves as a biology teacher at Ocean City High School, seeing his swimmers on a daily basis and putting the value of education into the girls’ heads. He also serves as a lieutenant at Avalon Beach Patrol, and the girls who are of age to guard on the beach get to see him at lifeguard races throughout the summer.
Keyser has become a consistent figure in the world of South Jersey swimming, and seeing him out on the beach gives the girls team a clearer picture of the community figure who is their coach.
“Seeing him on the beach helps us as a team know him,” said Styer, who is also a member of Ocean City Beach Patrol.
“We want to develop the character of the athletes here, and it takes trust,” said Shane McGrath, head of the boys program at Ocean City. McGrath works alongside Keyser on the Avalon Beach Patrol, having known his co-worker since Ian was in high school. “The trust Keyser has with his girls gets the team to swim hard, so they can be as successful a team as possible.”
“I’m just trying to use my perspective to be beneficial for them,” stated Keyser. Having been through numerous programs, his vision is a mesh of what he has done in the past, and customizing it for his team’s benefit. “The biggest thing is for the workout to be benefitting them. You need to be able to reflect on what you’re doing to improve, and if I think the girls aren’t responding to things well, I’m going to customize it for the girls.”
“Rarely do I see them not working hard,” said his brother, Kieran Keyser, assistant coach for the Ocean City boys team. “I think it is working, and is a testament to what he is doing.”
There are expectations for Ian Keyser for the rest of the season, to follow up on last year’s successful season, but concern of those expectations is the last thing on his mind. He knows that the girls will improve with time, and that before long they will have the lead on teams like EHT who have spent years trying to knock off the Red Raiders in the Cape-Atlantic League standings.
“We want to be the best team as we can be,” said Keyser. “That is my ultimate goal.”
The Red Raiders next meet with Atlantic City on Jan. 9, when Keyser and the girls will hop back into the pool after a long December of getting after it during practice sessions. Keyser and the Red Raiders also will be tested by teams such as Vineland, Bishop Eustace and Oakcrest during the month of January as they look to develop some cohesion prior to the state team playoffs in February.