Pagee Finley tapped as first coach of Sparta-Tomah swimming team
Pagee Finley is no stranger to starting new sports programs.
Sparta’s gymnastics coach for the past four seasons got that program up and running after a two-decade hiatus, and was instrumental in fostering the Sparta Parks and Recreation Department youth gymnastics and starting the Rebels competitive gymnastic team.
Now, Finley will get her chance to build another program from the bottom up as the first head coach of the Sparta-Tomah swimming co-op.
A graduate of Marshfield High School, Finley was a competitive swimmer in both middle and high school.
While she expressed her interest in coaching when she heard Sparta and Tomah were forming a swimming co-op, she never dreamed she would become its first-ever head coach.
“The job had been posted since February and I kind of stumbled on it,” admitted Finley.
“I applied to be an assistant, but there were no applicants for head coach,” she continued. “When you don’t have coaching, you’re not going to have a team. It’s their first season and I wanted them to have a team.”
Finley accepted the job after school board approval last month and officially kicked off Sparta and Tomah’s first swimming season on Tuesday in the Rumpel Fitness Center Pool at Fort McCoy.
“It went pretty well,” offered Finley.
We only had six girls show up, but we have 11 out for the team,” she continued. “I’m really, really surprised with the numbers. We went into the preseason meeting thinking maybe we had three total, but we had 13 girls show up. If we can stay at 11, I’m thrilled with that. It’s just fine.”
Finley said six or seven of the girls on the team are from Sparta, while the other three or four come from Tomah.
As one would expect with a brand new program, the skill levels of the swimmers are at both ends of the spectrum.
“We have one girls who is a beautiful swimmer, but there are others who are basically babies in the pool. We’re starting from the ground up,” Finley said.
“All we’re looking for this season is individual improvement from meet to meet and to make sure the girls are having fun,” she continued. “Swimming can be very exhausting, both physically and mentally, and if you’re not having fun doing it you aren’t going to stay out.”
Finley said her and assistant coach Victoria Wilcox-Borg plan to incorporate some games and competitions between the swimmers so practice is enjoyable for the team members.
The team will practice Monday through Friday form 3:30 to 5 p.m. for the rest of the summer, and from 4 to 5:30 p.m. when school starts this fall.
“The first couple of weeks, I’m going to be in the water with them. And we’ll be doing some dry-land training too, because one-and-a-half hours isn’t long enough for practice,” said Finley.
The team will compete in nine road meets this season, including two in Black River Falls, two in Onalaska and one in La Crosse.
“Our first meet is in Marshfield (on Wednesday, Aug. 23),” concluded Finley with a smile. “My last meet in high school was in Marshfield and now my first meet as a coach will be there too.”