Spring 2009 was an unusual time period for the ASU swim program.
Coach Michael Chasson had resigned, the men’s team was trying to stay afloat after boosters saved it from elimination, and the strengths between the men’s and women’s teams were heavily lopsided.
The women’s team had a promising class of incoming recruits, but something needed to be done to give the team a new direction.
Enter Dorsey Tierney-Walker.
Due to her illustrious coaching history, Tierney-Walker was hired 22 days after Chasson’s resignation in hopes of rebuilding the swim program “to another level.” She had previously coached at Auburn University, where she won two national championships with the Tigers.
Before her successes at Auburn, Tierney-Walker turned around Indiana University’s swim program. Her athletes had rewritten every single Hoosier school record. Her 2005 team’s ninth-place finish at the NCAA Championships was at the time the highest in IU history.
“She brings a lot of experience from her own athletic background and being in programs that are proven (to be) successful,” dive coach Mark Bradshaw said. “It’s already showing here (over) the past few years with her teams here at ASU. That’s only going to improve.”
Tierney-Walker’s entrance to the team, however, wasn’t exactly smooth in the eyes of her athletes.
“I was very scared,” senior captain Jordyn Green said, who was a sophomore during Tierney-Walker’s first season. “It was a rough transition from our other coach.”
Fast-forward to 2012. Green said Tierney-Walker taught her what it meant to be an athlete.
In just two and a half seasons, Tierney-Walker sent 10 different swimmers to the NCAA Championships and the women’s team placed as high as 18th. While the men’s team appears to be growing at a steady rate, Tierney-Walker said she has been in contact with alumni on keeping the team stable and calls it “a work in progress.”
“The athletes were really ready to embrace the opportunity to commit to what they were trying to do and see where they could go,” Tierney-Walker said. “They bought into it.”
Bradshaw said it’s easy to notice a large part of Tierney-Walker’s success comes from her dedication to the sport.
“If I were to sum up Dorsey in one word, (it would be) passionate,” Bradshaw said. “Both programs are to the level they need to be, and she’s very passionate about swimming and her athletes.”
During every race, Tierney-Walker can be seen pacing back-and-forth along the edge of the water, encouraging her athletes. In practice, she offers personal tips to one of her swimmers after every drill, and occasionally shares a laugh with her group.
Tierney-Walker takes so much pride in relationships that she brought assistant coach Demerae Christianson and former student-athlete Scott Goodrich with her from Auburn to help coach at ASU.
“Her best feature (as a coach) is the determination to make everybody good,” Goodrich said. “She doesn’t give up on anybody, she doesn’t just want to pass anybody off, but she’s focused on making everybody the best they can be.”
Despite having a soft spot for dogs, many of her assistants and athletes say Tierney-Walker is one of the most intense coaches they have ever seen — and she agrees “100 percent.”
“It’s something that’s been engrained in me, not only as an athlete, but (also as) a student,” Tierney-Walker said. “My intensity comes from passion and energy, and striving to achieve for something that only the very best in your sport are trying to strive for, so that’s probably where it comes from.
“My fifth-grade teacher will probably tell you the same thing. Being the youngest of eight children, you have to learn to fight for second helpings at the dinner table.”
Although Tierney-Walker’s primary job as a coach rests at the pool, she insists that seeing her student-athletes achieve in the classroom is her first priority.
“The way I look at it is, if you’re going to class, if you are committing 15 hours a week to your studies outside the classroom and you’re really making sure you’re prepared ahead of time, you should be doing well in the classroom,” she said. “We’re not here just to get a degree or get by. That’s not why we’re here. We have very capable and intelligent student athletes on the team. Be the best student you can be.”
Her philosophy on education is well documented through the team’s conference awards. Eleven Sun Devil swimmers appeared on the 2010 All-Pac-10 Academic team and 12 appeared in 2011. The swim and dive program consistently has one of the highest graduation rates of all ASU sports.
As for the future, Tierney-Walker not only wants to win championships, but also make sure the men’s team is well funded. She also hopes to see both squads grow for years to come. She avoids using “I” or “me” at all costs when talking about her program, as she believes it will take a total team effort to reach their goals.
“It’s about swimming and diving, men’s and women’s,” Tierney-Walker said. “We’re headed in the right direction as a team and as a representative of ASU, and we’re very proud to represent this university.”
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