Annual Athletics Awards Dinner
Rice Records Another Strong Showing Saturday
Former Meet Champion Rice Swim Team Returns To National Invitational
B.S., Univ. of Tampa, 1988;
M.S., TCU, 1990;
Rice is an institution with an elite academic curriculum, but when it came time for the University to make a commitment to its swim program and its dynamic head coach, Seth Huston, the mathematics was pretty simple.
When looking at the work coach Huston put in and the results he achieved at the helm of the Owls' swim program -- such as developing Rice student-athletes into making the U.S. National team, qualifying for the United States Olympic Trials, and to do so while having a team grade point average that is annually among the highest of any Division I swim program in the nation (including women's & men's teams) -- Rice University didn't so much as blink about writing a $5.4 million check for the construction of a new, state-of-the-art on-campus Aquatics Center for Huston's Owls to call home.
The $5.4 million is a substantial amount to put behind a college swim program, particularly in the current economic climate. Rice University believes that when it comes to a program like coach Huston's (with the type of student-athletes he recruits who become Rice Owls) it is money well-spent.
In each of his 15 previous years at Rice, Huston has helped every member of the team achieve her best personal level of success. Improvement in the individual's performance has made for better team results, but that's not all. With the fantastic, picturesque and fast (or "crazy-fast" as one Owl described it) Rice Aquatics Center to train in, there is every reason to expect more of the same from Huston's teams for years and years to come.
The 2017 season may have been some of best coaching yet. Not only did Owls set three new individual school records and one relay record, Rice swimmers won a total of four Conference USA titles on the way to a second place finish in the C-USA meet standings. In fact under coach Huston, Rice has now finished either first or second in the C-USA meet in each of the last eight years. He coached sophomore Marie-Claire Schillinger to C-USA titles and NCAA `A' cuts with new school records in the breaststroke events. Junior tandem Kaitlyn Swinney made tremendous strides setting the new school record in the 400-individual medley. Freestyle sprinter Lauren Rhodes was named the C-USA Newcomer of the Year. In the classroom the Owls were honored three of the seven spots on the seven spots on 2017 C-USA All-Academic Team.
The Olympic year of 2016 was a special one for the Rice swim program. Huston personally trained three Owls (sophomore Kiley Beall along with Schillinger and Swinney) to represent Rice at that summer's U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. Sophomore Alicia Caldwell, a native of Australia, of course could not participate in the U.S. Trials but broke the school record in the 200-backstroke. Sophomore Jaecey Parham joined Schillinger in winning individual C-USA titles as the Owls finished second in the league meet. Under Huston's daily training regimen, Rice swimmers won the C-USA Swimmer of the Week Award six times during the regular season to tie for the most of any school in the conference.
In 2015 Rice had talented veterans and promising freshmen, and coach Huston blended just the right mix to send an Owl relay back to the NCAA Championships for the first time in 14 years. Sure, the foursome of Caldwell, Rachel Moody, Casey Clark and Marissa Konicke won the C-USA championship in the 200-medley relay, but Huston knew they could do a little more. At the conference meet he signed the same relay up for a timed trial and a school record 1:37.04 later, the Owls had punched their ticket to the NCAA Championships in North Carolina as the meet's No. 11 seed. Individually, Clark won the C-USA title in the 100-butterfly with a school record time of 51.98 and went on to finish 25th in the nation at the NCAA Championships.
Huston led the Owls to the most dominating performance in C-USA history in the multi-championship season of 2014. Not only did Rice win 11 C-USA event titles (six individual and all five relays), the Blue & Gray blazed to what is still the highest point total ever recorded at the meet in the league's history with an eye-opening 1,000-point barrage -- and all without a single point earned from the diving events. He coached the 2014 Swimmer of the C-USA Meet in Casey Clark, who then went on to represent Rice at the NCAA Championships in three events. Huston was easily named the 2014 C-USA Coach of the Year, his fourth time in five years to earn the honor, but the Owls' season, however, still wasn't quite finished. The Rice head coach had quietly had role in organizing the very first Collegiate Swim Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) National Invitational Meet, which debuted in 2014 for the host of student-athletes who achieve a National Provisional standard but who are not selected for the NCAA Championships.
The meet quickly gained a popular nickname of The Swimming N.I.T.. Like its counterpart in college basketball, the CSCAA Invitational or The Swimming N.I.T. is a national competition for a postseason title separate that is from the NCAA event. What is unsurprising though is that the Huston-coached Rice Owls out-dueled national power Brigham Young to win the first ever CSCAA Invitational in the spring of 2014. To prove it wasn't a fluke, Huston led Rice to a second in the same postseason meet in the spring of 2015.
In 2013 he led the program to the Conference USA league title, the Owls' second in three years. The Blue & Gray stormed to the league crown by winning six event championships (five individual and one relay). Seven school records fell (three individual and four relays) and there were eleven NCAA provisional qualifiers. Sophomore Casey Clark marked Rice's return to the NCAA Championships before a host of Owls went on to swim at the U.S. Nationals over the summer. For his efforts Huston was named the 2013 C-USA Coach of the Year for the third time.
After he led the team to a come-from-behind second place finish at the 2012 Conference USA Championships, he coached two Owls (Casey Clark and Erin Flanigan) competing at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Rice set a total of five new school records in 2012.
The 2011 season proved to be a dramatic breakthrough for the Rice swim program. Huston's Owls sent a buzz through the nation's collegiate swimming circles by winning the C-USA Championship. It marked Rice's first league title in women's swimming dating back to the start of the program in the early 1970s.
The most interesting, if not eye-opening, aspect of the Owls' two C-USA Championships is that the Blue & Gray won the titles despite not competing in, nor getting any points for, the three conference diving events. The second-most interesting aspect of the 2011 championship season is that Rice won only one event at the meet (the 400-IM, by true freshman Quincy Christian). Even with only one individual champion, the Owls had so many other personal bests and high finishes across the roster that the points simply began to pile up.
The absence of diving points, or having just one individual champion, did not matter. In either case it's important to note that it was a swim team, behind the training of a true swim coach, that won the conference title. Huston's C-USA peers voted him as the 2011 Coach of the Year, the second-straight year for him to earn the honor (after he won it for the first time in 2010).
At the end of Rice's 2010-2011 school year it was a Huston-coached and recruited swimmer, senior Karen Gerken, who was named the winner of the Joyce Pounds-Hardy Award. The Pounds-Hardy Award is presented to the top female Rice student-athlete who achieves the most in academics, community service, campus involvement and her respective athletic competition. As it turns out, all the criteria for the University's Pounds-Hardy Award have long-been part of Huston's recruiting checklist.
In 2009-2010 the program moved into the beautiful new pool and the team responded. The junior tandem of Gerken and Alex O'Brien won Conference USA individual championships in the 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle events, respectively. The Owls won five dual meets overall and earlier claimed the team title of the Delta State Invitational meet over five other opponents. There were nine new entries in the school record books, but swimming fast was only part of the story. In the classroom the 2010 Owls won college swimming's "Academic National Championship." According to the National Collegiate Swim Coaches' Association (NCSCAA), Huston's Owls had the highest cumulative grade point average (3.62) of any of the 347 women's and men's swim teams from the country's 238 Division I schools. The C-USA named him the 2010 Coach of the Year.
Rice swimming was the repeat national academic winner from 2009. In the pool, the Owls posted a huge road win at the Nebraska Cornhusker Invitational in Lincoln, Neb. Senior Skylar Craig and sophomore Erin Mattson both broke individual school records in the backstroke and butterfly, respectively. Four Huston-coached relays set new school records to close out the competitive season.
Rice's 2008 season was sensational. Huston led the Owls to a Top 40 finish at the NCAA National Championships and a second place finish at the Conference USA meet. He coached Brittany Massengale to All-America status in her final year of eligibility, but the Owls' season didn't end with the NCAA meet. He went on to coach Massengale and fellow Owl Carlyann Miller into qualifying for the 2008 United States Olympic Trials. At the end of the 2008 school year Diane Gu was named the winner of the Joyce Pounds-Hardy Award.
The 2007 season was a solid year. Not only did Huston coach Rice to its (then) highest-ever finish at a conference championship meet (as the Owls took second at the 2007 C-USA Championships), he coached league champions for both an individual and relay event.
In 2006 his Owl swimmers participated in the U.S. Swimming's Senior Nationals and, for the first time ever, a Rice swimmer made the United States National Team and represent the country in an international meet. After coaching Massengale to set new school records in the 500, the 1,000 and 1650-freestyle, she competed for the U.S. national team at the Open Water World Championships in Italy. In no small part to her Rice head coach, Massengale also went on to swim in the U.S. Olympic Trials in two pool events and could compete in the international open water events in the future.
Huston coached both Massengale and Diane Gu, then a freshman, to qualifying for the 2006 NCAA Championships. By getting all the members of the Blue & Gray to perform at their peak, the Owls have stepped up with some solid dual meet wins in his tenure such as defeating Miami on the road in Florida, LSU on the road in Baton Rouge, and finishes ahead of Ohio State, Arkansas, Nebraska, TCU, Houston, Colorado State, Nevada and Washington State at multi-team events. The victories have certainly grabbed some attention for Rice swimming, but Huston still has his eye on the bigger picture.
The head coach and his staff have worked hard at training the individual athletes to reach their best, but Huston has worked equally hard at identifying the best student-athletes across the country and bringing them to Rice. In its annual summer wrap up of the top high school performers in the country (a list including both public and private schools), the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (NISCA) listed three incoming Owl recruits among the nation's top seniors in their respective events.
As a result, winning is nothing new to a Huston-coached team. Prior to joining Rice in May of 2002, Huston spent eight years at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., where he was the head coach of both the men's and women's teams. He is a four-time Division II women's coach of the year and has won back-to-back Division II national championships in 2001 and 2002. The Truman men tied their best-ever result with a ninth-place finish in 2002.
Huston, 53, has been named the College Swim Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) coach of the year four times and he was the Mid East Championships coach of the year from 1995-98. He has coached the Division II women's swimmer of the year. Truman State swimmers set eight NCAA Division II meet records during Huston's tenure, and the school produced more than 100 Division II all-Americas. While at Truman State, Huston coached 22 academic all-Americas (16 women and six men) and both teams have posted 16 consecutive semesters as CSCAA all-academic teams.
The St. Louis native earned a bachelor's degree in physical education from the University of Tampa in 1988 and a master's from TCU in 1990, serving as an assistant swim coach at both schools. Before landing the head coaching job at Truman State, Huston spent four years as the head coach and program director of Katy Aquatics in Houston, where he was named age-group coach of the year in 1992. He built a program that produced three top-seven finishes at the Texas Age Group Championships, numerous state champions and a ninth-place men's finish at the 1994 Junior National Swimming Championships.
An active participant in the U.S. Swimming program, Huston is a member of the CSCAA as well as the American Swimming Coaches Association. He is an ASCA certified coach, having coached swimmers at all levels of excellence from NCAA all-Americas to Olympic Trial qualifiers and U.S. National Team members.
Huston trains and competes in masters swimming and open-water swimming. He enjoys cycling and other fitness-testing events. He and his wife Amy have been married for 29 years, and the couple have three adult children: Hobie, Hanna, and Eli.
Got a question for the head coach? E-mail Seth Huston here.