Earlier in the school year, Lehigh head coach Rob Herb wanted to teach his squad a new stretching system. It was part of Herb’s goal of raising the bar for his program and swimmers. His only problem: he could only have so much contact with his team due to NCAA off-season rules.
That’s when senior Kevin Shoemaker came in. Shoemaker took the challenge of teaching the system to the underclassmen. The more sessions Shoemaker conducted, the more his teammates began buying into the system.
Shoemaker’s stretching sessions have paid dividends as the Mountain Hawks have enjoyed a solid season thus far and are primed for a run in the upcoming Patriot League Championships.
“During the offseason, we emphasized going from the middle of the pack in the Patriot League to the top of the pack,” said Herb, who has known Shoemaker since he was 10. “Kevin and a few others were able to make it happen. Kevin does a lot of the little extras that make for a winning program. He’s always had that drive to be the best.”
Shoemaker, a standout in the 200-yard butterfly, possesses the dedication and focus that his teammates have no choice but to follow. His motto: each team member’s contributions play a role in each member’s success. Shoemaker’s team-first attitude was evident in his quotes in a newspaper article a few months back. When asked how he felt about competing at the US Nationals, Shoemaker credited teammates for his accomplishments. Shoemaker spent most of the article discussing the team as a whole.
Swimming is a tough sport that requires stamina and physical strength. Herb puts his squad through nine practices a week, including three double sessions during that span. Shoemaker is one of the few members of the team who doesn’t let the hard work and individual pressure get to him. He never has trouble finding the energy and motivation to push through each stroke. His rallying cry is what increases everyone else’s energy level when practices lack fire.
“Swimming is my passion, stress reliever, and therapy,” Shoemaker said. “I put all my energy into it and it’s helped me structure my life. With swimming, I get to see the results of hard work. It’s the perfect life balancer.”
Herb doesn’t hesitate to say that Shoemaker is one of the strongest swimmers in Lehigh history in the 100 and 200 yard butterfly. Both events are high-tempo and require a lot of power. Herb goes even further in admitting that Shoemaker has the soundest butterfly he’s ever seen. Shoemaker has an unusual knack for how to swim the 200 and continues to impress Herb with that knack.
“Kevin gets stronger every year, which isn’t the norm for college swimmers” Herb said.
Shoemaker has improved numbers-wise each year since arriving at Lehigh. Typical of Shoemaker, he attributed his improvements to someone else. He credited the coaching staff’s training regimen for his increased productivity. The staff taught Shoemaker to set goals for himself, and boy, has he accomplished them.
“Coming to Lehigh meant I got to come back to Coach Herb’s strategy,” Shoemaker said. “His strategy is based on a lot more thought and motivation. Through his strategy, I’ve become a much stronger and well-rounded swimmer.”
The benefits of setting those goals were apparent in last year’s Patriot League Championships. Shoemaker broke the school record in the 200 fly with a time of 1:49.73. And typical of Shoemaker he plans on breaking his own record at this year’s championships. It would be another step to breaking yet another goal of his: graduating from Lehigh knowing he put his best effort into everything he did.
Shoemaker’s desire to be the best dates back to his childhood. Growing up with two brothers who performed well in just about everything, Shoemaker strived to be like them and even better. He’s closest to his brother Kyle, who is a year older. To this day, Kyle sets the standard for everything Kevin does.
“He’s doing everything well and I attribute a lot of my success to him,” Shoemaker said of Kyle, a recent Clemson grad who also captained Clemson’s swim team.
Shoemaker, a Hellertown native, began swimming at the age of six when his mother took him and his brothers for swimming lessons. After swimming for two years in the recreational summer league, Shoemaker realized he wasn’t bad. At age ten, he joined a local swim club team coached by Herb. Shoemaker spent eight years on the team and built a father-son relationship with Herb during that span. While with the swim club, Shoemaker learned the proper swimming techniques and discovered what events he was good in. While attending Saucon Valley High School, his body developed in ways that translated to swimming success. He began winning more races and won a state title in the 100 fly.
Ironically, it was Herb who suggested that Shoemaker attend Marist College in New York because he thought it would be a good fit. Things didn’t work out so well at Marist. Shoemaker wasn’t developing the way he wanted as a student-athlete so he decided to transfer after two years. After visiting Lehigh, Shoemaker didn’t look any further. Impressed by Lehigh’s academic reputation, Shoemaker knew it was the perfect fit. His relationship with Herb and the school’s proximity to his home made the decision much easier.
“On my visit to Lehigh, I realized the connection with the guys on the team academically and in terms of what I wanted to do with my swimming career,” Shoemaker said. “Lehigh student-athletes are not only about doing well in sports, but also about setting themselves up for a career after college.”
Knowing the transition to Lehigh would require an adjustment period, Shoemaker was up for the challenge. He knew the professors would expect a lot more out of him and he liked that. As for the transition to Lehigh’s swim team, Shoemaker had no problems because in his words, “you do what you do in swimming- it’s universal.” It wasn’t him being cocky, that was just his way of easing the transition.
While many college athletes don’t enjoy success in athletics and academics collectively, Shoemaker has taken the challenge of handling both head-on. The Marketing major carries a 3.39 GPA and if anything, swimming helps with his academics. He has been a member of the Dean’s List and Patriot League Academic Honor Roll. For all the traveling he does and swimming events he partakes in, Shoemaker almost never misses class.
Shoemaker has an interesting take on balancing different portions of his lifestyle. It’s a motto that many student-athletes fail to grasp.
“It’s one thing at a time with me,” he said. “When I’m in class, I’m in class. When I’m studying, I’m studying and not thinking about swimming. And when I’m swimming, I’m swimming. It comes down to keeping the good habits and dropping the bad ones.”
Beth Gallant, who has taught Shoemaker in three courses, values his contributions in class.
“Kevin’s very organized, talkative, and has a great perspective on things,” Gallant said. “When you like a subject, you don’t mind doing it- and that’s the case with him and his school work.”
Gallant cherishes Shoemaker’s always-positive and caring attitude. She’s never seen him have a bad day and commends him for never letting swimming affect his emotions. Shoemaker showed his engaging demeanor and people skills during a final presentation in Gallant’s class last semester. He was one of the few students that connected with his peers and kept everyone interested. “He’s an entertainer with a great presence about him,” Gallant said joyously.
Shoemaker feels it’s his duty to help as many people as possible. He participates in Lehigh’s Athletic Leadership Development Program, using it as a means to fine-tune his leadership skills. Perhaps a role he enjoys even more is being a student-athlete mentor. Shoemaker views it as a chance to help freshmen athletes get acclimated to college and increase their chances of succeeding at Lehigh, like he has thus far.
Fittingly, Shoemaker hopes to acquire a job as a salesman after graduation. His people skills will undoubtedly garner him success in this field.
Even though finding a job is important to him, Shoemaker has some unfinished business to accomplish at Lehigh. He has a Patriot League Championship in mind and is doing everything in his power to win it. Shoemaker wants to leave a legacy at Lehigh, individually and team-wise.
“I want to be remembered as a guy who put his heart into everything,” Shoemaker said. “I want everyone to know I did my best to help the team get better and maximize our potential.”
If Shoemaker hopes to impress everyone, it’s too late because he’s already done so.
“Kevin has a lot of integrity and lives by a solid code,” a proud Herb said. “He cares about how he’s seen and performs in the classroom- and he wants everyone to know he cares. He has a high level of maturity for a young man his age.”
The Lehigh swimming and diving teams will travel to Navy this weekend for the 2012 Patriot League Championships – the moment the Mountain Hawks’ men’s and women’s squads have waited for all year long. The Lehigh men enter the championships following a 7-4 dual meet season while the women were 4-7.
“The keys to the team finishing at the top are racing with confidence, believing in the incredible work they’ve done and getting to the wall faster than the person next to them,” head coach Rob Herb said. “We have been preparing for the Patriot League Championships since day one. We are training hard. We are rested and ready!”
The women will be looking for redemption this weekend as they attempt to make up for last year’s sixth-place finish (230 points) at the championships. Even though they didn’t finish near the top, the squad still has solid performances in last year’s event. Lehigh placed three swimmers, Meredith Bayer, Alyssa Siano, and Priscilla Barletta, in the B Final of the 200 fly. Bayer won the race to finish ninth overall. Brooke Smalley delivered the lone school record for the Lehigh women at last year’s championship meet, with a time of 56.80 in the 100 yard butterfly.
The women’s team didn’t close out their dual season the way they would have liked, dropping a tri-meet to No. 20 Penn State and Saint Francis (Pa.).
Freshman Alissa Leung continued to build on her strong first season in the meet against Saint Francis. She finished third overall in the 100 yard backstroke and had the top time for both teams in the 200 backstroke. Herb is highlighting Leung as one to watch this weekend. She has been the Patriot League’s Swimmer of the Week twice this season and has the highest ranking on the women’s side.
Herb and the rest of the women’s team will look for Leung and junior Emily DiDonato to continue their strong showings in the pool this weekend. While Leung has excelled in the backstroke events, DiDonato has excelled in the breaststroke events.
As for the women’s sprinters, Herb will look for them to set the tone with strong relays on the first day. Sprinters Barletta, Taylor Wise, and Paola Simon will all be looked upon to set the tone. Herb is also depending on distance swimmers Bayer, Siano, Madi Smith, and Gia Patafio to give the team a boost.
The men’s team will look to build upon last year’s fourth place finish (380 points). Two members of the team broke school records in the process: Alex Aboud broke his own record in the 400 yard individual medley and Kevin Shoemaker broke the school record in the 200-yard butterfly with a time of 1: 49.73.
The squad lost its last four duals after winning its first seven meets of the season. The Mountain Hawks lost their last outing to Penn State, 168-101.
However, the men’s team has displayed the focus and intensity in practices that Herb believes will bring home a top finish. Herb noted Chris Hoke, Demetri Karedis, Frank Cuzzola, Angelo DiGiacinto, and Marty Kendig as the sprinters to watch. Like the women’s sprinters Herb is depending on this group to set the tone early for the rest of the team.
Herb said Shoemaker, Aboud, Danny Bennett, Jake Greene, and Chris Toth, all distance and IM swimmers will need to break into the top eight to give the team a boost.
“I feel my squad is ready because they all understand the importance of the Patriot League Championships,” Herb said. “They have dedicated and pushed themselves for the last 138 days. They want to make themselves proud as well as highlight Lehigh University.”
The Patriot League Championship starts Thursday at Navy’s Lejeune Hall and runs through Saturday. Preliminaries begin at 10:30 a.m. each day with the daily finals set for a 6 p.m. start. A video stream of the Patriot League Championships can be seen live through Patriot League All-Access.
Feature and championship preview written by Antoine Williams ‘12