Swanson steps down after three seasons leading women’s golf

| Senior Sports Editor
Two rows of people stand in dark gray shirts and white shorts, with the two people in the middle of the back row holding a silver trophy.

Mary Swanson (second from left) poses with the women’s golf team. Swanson is leaving Washington University after three seasons. (Photo courtesy of Mary Swanson)

Update as of Aug. 19, 2021 at 10:30 p.m.: Washington University has hired Dave Reinhardt, the Bears’ former assistant golf coach, as the interim head golf coach following Mary Swanson’s departure.

Women’s golf coach Mary Swanson came to Washington University knowing that she wanted to end her collegiate coaching career with the Bears. Now, she has stepped down from her head coaching position after three years in which she mentored standouts like Annie Mascot and Caraline Oakley and led the Bears to numerous tournament victories and school records. 

Swanson has accepted a position as the program director at First Tee, a golf nonprofit in the St. Louis area, and the athletic department is looking for an interim coach to fill her position ahead of the team’s first tournament on Sept. 4. Swanson is the second head coach to leave this summer, after long-time women’s soccer head coach Jim Conlon left in July to take the reins of the program at Division II powerhouse Grand Valley State University.

In her time at Wash. U., Swanson created structure and support for a program that was only 10 years old when she was hired. “Mary joined our department in the summer of 2018 and brought a love and passion for golf, for teaching and coaching her student-athletesnot merely the technical side, but the mental part of the gameand has been a good friend to all of us,” athletic department leadership wrote in a statement distributed internally during Swanson’s last week, in July.  

During Swanson’s first year, the team finished 11th place at the NCAA tournament while recording the team’s lowest scoring average in program history of 310.24. Her second year, COVID-19 cut short the Bears’ season, but the team managed to win its first three tournaments of the fall season and was ranked fifth in Division III.  Under Swanson’s leadership, the team also set school records for the 18-hole, 36-hole, and 54 hole scores.  

Swanson’s last year and a half with the team was turbulent after all play in 2020 was canceled. Even after play resumed in the spring of 2021, the team faced many challenges, with athletes in and out of quarantine housing. “We try to be stabilizing forces, as coaches, and stay as consistent as we can for the players to help them feel supported,” Swanson said. “But we as coaches were juggling all these changes and what’s going on with our families at the same time—definitely challenging circumstances.” 

Still, the team managed to have several standout performances, including Oakley’s first collegiate win and a team win at the Illinois College Classic. The team was led by underclassmen, including freshmen Krystina Wilson, Gwynnie Lee, and Gianna Inguagiato. Ahead of the upcoming season, Swanson also recruited three new freshmen who each bring unique assets to a young team with considerable potential ahead of a full season of play. 

While the athletic department released the short statement internally, administrators have not released an external statement regarding Swanson’s departure or the search for an interim coach.  It was disappointing for Swanson and created confusion for incoming recruits and teammates, she said. “I didn’t feel this appreciation necessarily from the administration as I left, after all I’ve given to the athletes and the University,” she said. “This is part of the process of moving on—just telling the story of the things I accomplished there—and it was just odd.” 

Associate Director of Athletics for External Operations Chelsea Petersen told Student Life in an email that the athletic department is adopting new policies and procedures for when to post external releases, but did not provide more information. “We are certainly grateful for Mary’s leadership in our department,” Petersen wrote.

Swanson said her new position was a situation of “the right position just landing in my lap.” She will be able to help the next generation reach their golf goals but also have a different quality of life with less travel and more time with her family. She said she will also do some private coaching that satisfies her competitive spirit.  

Still, Swanson will miss many elements of her collegiate coaching career, including the relationships she has built with team members. “To be a part of [student-athletes’] lives, not just for their four years but beyond, has been really special to me,” she said.  “It’s really a family thing for us.” 

The Bears’ first tournament of the fall, the I-70 Dual, is on Sept. 4.

Senior Sports Editor Grady Nance contributed reporting.

Correction: This story has been updated as of 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 19, 2021 to reflect that assistant coach Dave Reinhardt is staying with the team.


Read more about the people who lead Washington University athletics

Conlon resigns, takes position at Division II soccer powerhouse

Once a bear, always a bear: Madara returns

Departing WU, Lori White leaves behind a legacy of enthusiasm for and dedication to athletics

 

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