Lars Jorgensen has Vols confident heading into SEC Championships

What

SEC Men's/Women's Swimming and Diving Championships

Where

Allan Jones Aquatic Center

When

Today-Saturday (Preliminaries begin at 10 a.m. each day; finals start at 6 p.m.)

How much?

$20 for bleachers, $25 for chair-back seating on daily basis; $70 for all-session pass for all four days

Parking

Available for preliminaries and finals in the Kingston Building lot near the aquatic center. There will be a free shuttle that will run from the Kingston Building lot located off Cumberland Avenue each day from 8 a.m. until the conclusion of the evening finals session.

UT swimmers/divers to watch

Men: Ryan Helms (senior, diver), Ed Walsh (junior, freestyle), Ricky Henahan (senior, backstroke), Samuel Rairden (sophomore, various), Jake Epperson (senior, breaststroke)

Women: Jenny Connolly (senior, various), Molly Hannis (freshman, breaststroke), Tori Lamp (sophomore, diver), Kelsey Floyd (junior, various), Lindsay Gendron (sophomore, freestyle).

Others to watch

Men: Marcin Cieslak (Florida, butterfly/freestyle), Greg Ferrucci (Kentucky, diver), Kyle Owens (Auburn, backstroke), Nic Fink (Georgia, breaststroke), Matt Elliott (Florida, breaststroke)

Women: Courtney Forcucci (South Carolina, diver), Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace (Auburn, freestyle), Melanie Margalis (Georgia, individual medley), Amanda Kendall (LSU, freestyle), Elizabeth Beisel (Florida, individual medley).

Last year's Tennessee finish

Men: 3rd Women: 4th

Defending champions

Men: Auburn Women:Georgia

The news came so suddenly, so swiftly and carried such significance that one team meeting wouldn't suffice.

In early January, upon learning that longtime coach John Trembley had been fired for gross misconduct, the Tennessee men's swimming team came together for an impromptu get-together with interim coach Lars Jorgensen. That meeting led into the Vols' previously scheduled practice, which was then followed by a team dinner, an event where Meeting No. 2 would take place.

There, Jorgensen had the Vols' attention for more than an hour. Accounts on the meeting from swimmers and Jorgensen were short on specifics, but the theme of his message centered on maintaining UT's "brand," taking ownership of the team and upholding the program's storied traditions that were bigger than a single coach, even one as prolific as Trembley.

"Moving forward, staying together," senior Ricky Henahan said. "After that, we didn't really talk about it again."

The past six weeks, Jorgensen said, have come with their obvious challenges. Getting to today, the start of the four-day SEC Championships at Allan Jones Aquatic Center, was a journey through choppy waters.

Descriptors such as turmoil, drama and adversity flow freely from Jorgensen and his swimmers when they discuss the state of the program, but so do the words fun, stronger and resilience.

"We've become closer, a better unit," Jorgensen said. "I think it's been a lot of positives that have come out of it."

After six years as head coach at Toledo, Jorgensen came to UT last year because of a situation that was even more adverse than the program's most recent body blow. He took a position that many of his colleagues perceived as a demotion, filling in for longtime Trembley assistant Joe Hendee, who was on the 1993 staff for Jorgensen's

one year with the Vols as a swimmer, while Hendee battled with and ultimately succumbed to brain cancer.

But to Jorgensen, a former Olympian who holds UT's record in the 1,000-meter freestyle, it was far from a step down in a coaching career that spans 13 years. Though the circumstances weren't ideal, the decision put him in a position to take on his "dream job," albeit in an interim role, when Trembley was fired.

"Obviously, the scenario is not what I envisioned it to be, the way it happened," Jorgensen said. "But it's always been my dream to be a coach here and the head coach here."

The son of a coach whom he describes as "old school hard ... kind of like a Tiger Woods dad," Jorgensen said, he demands the same kind of effort and toughness from his swimmers that he would demand from himself. That might come off as overly demanding to some, Jorgensen admits, because he spent the years in between his time as a college/Olympic swimmer and his career as a coach competing in arguably the most demanding sport in existence: triathlon.

Inspired by a cross-country-running college girlfriend, Jorgensen picked up running after he "started getting fat because I wasn't doing anything." His father, Niels, was an Olympic wrestler for Denmark and his brother, Daniel, also was an Olympic swimmer, so it wasn't much of a surprise to him that he eventually became such a swift runner that he pondered trying out for the U.S. marathon team.

Instead, Jorgensen, a San Diego native, picked up cycling and became a successful professional triathlete. He holds the Hawaii Ironman record for his time in the swimming portion of the grueling, daylong race.

"That's kind of my mind-set as far as coaching," Jorgensen said. "Just work hard."

Junior Ed Walsh, one of the Vols' top freestyle specialists, said that's exactly the kind of coach UT needed during this period of instability and uncertainty.

"We needed someone to not make us focus on the drama that happened," Walsh said. "He's bringing the best out of us and makes us focus on swimming."

Pulling from a bevy of sources of inspiration, ranging from his father to Pat Summitt to Nick Saban, Jorgensen has tried to add more structure to the Vols' everyday routines. While stressing an enhanced focus on details, Jorgensen also has implemented changes into how the Vols practice.

Instead of immediately splitting up into the three groups they had grown accustomed to under Trembley — sprinters, middle distance and distance — the Vols warm up as one big group for a lengthy amount of time before breaking off into their specific areas.

"We just blended as one big group," Walsh said. "There's a lot more competitiveness on the team. We race each other more in practice, which is what makes us more competitive and brings us together."

It hasn't gone unnoticed from those above Jorgensen. In a statement released to the News Sentinel, UT athletic director Dave Hart said Jorgensen and his staff have "responded admirably under unusual circumstances."

Jorgensen, though, downplayed his impact. As he said during his first, and second, meeting with the team in January, it was on them to persevere through this ordeal.

"The guys have been incredibly resilient and kind of stepped up to the challenge," Jorgensen said. "It's made our team stronger."

Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble

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Comments » 6

BillVol writes:

Is Lars really a Volunteer? Would he leave us for a job at a California school?

Oenoboy writes:

Is he really a Vol?!? He only graduated from and set records at UT. Your statement makes no sense and has no validity. He's a VFL no matter where he goes.

fearthehound writes:

Let's keep him.

UTKnoxVols writes:

When I coach takes a lower position to come here, then that proves he loves Tennessee.
Hopefully he can improve our swimmers, so he can be here for a long time.

bspurlingcac#225603 writes:

Lars did a great job at Toledo. I was very excited to see that he was going to Tennessee. He will do a great job as Head Coach of Tennessee if given the chance. He built a championship team out of nothing in Toledo. I have been coaching swimming in Cincinnati for over 30 years and I can say with out hesitation that Tennessee should do every thing they can to lock up this guy!!! Do it now!!!

JohnnyRotten writes:

I trained with Lars for a year or two when he was a triathlete in the late '90s. Great guy--motivated, hard-working, funny. Haven't talked to him in years, but I'll bet he's a terrific swim coach. Hope he gets to stay here.

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