Damion Dennis enters his 10th season with the Mountaineer swimming and diving program, and he is in his fourth season as associate head coach. Dennis brings a wealth of knowledge and a passion for swimming to the pool deck. He is involved in all facets of the program, oversees recruiting and sprint training, and assists head coach Vic Riggs with the day-to-day operations.
Since coming to WVU, Dennis has been an integral part in transforming WVU’s program into a nationally recognized force. Working primarily with the power group, Dennis has helped achieve some of the top individual and relay performances in WVU history, and he has assisted nine Mountaineer swimmers to qualify for the NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships in the last two years. In 2014, West Virginia qualified all five of its relays to the NCAA Championships, including an “A” cut from the 200 freestyle relay team. Thanks to his coaching expertise in sprinting, nearly every top time in the sprint events has been established during Dennis’s tenure, including three Big 12 champion titles – two from graduate Tim Squires and one from senior Andrew Marsh, a new Big 12 record in the 100 backstroke from Marsh and school records by Marsh, Squires, Bryce Bohman and Kayla Andrews.
Dennis’s coaching acumen is not confined solely to the mountains of West Virginia. He also has a strong history of training swimmers who can compete on a global level. In 2008 and 2012, WVU produced numerous qualifiers for the U.S. Olympic Trials. The following year, Dennis co-coached Pablo Marmolejo to the 2009 World Championships. This season is already proving to be successful as well: WVU had seven swimmers qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trials.
As a coach at the collegiate level, Dennis boasts an impressive repertoire of stats: 107 NCAA Championships qualifiers, 119 All-Americans, five NCAA champions, 21 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifiers; and one World Championships qualifier. The WVU sprint group has consistently been ranked in the top-20 nationally, and the Mountaineers have been recognized as a CSCAA Scholar All-America Team every semester since coming to WVU.
The 2015-16 season was no doubt monumental for West Virginia. Whether the team succeeded in or out of the pool, Dennis was an integral part of each accomplishment. As the record-breaking year continued for the Mountaineers, Dennis coached Marsh to a Big 12 gold medal in the 100 backstroke while also setting a Big 12 Championship record time of 45.41. Marsh also marked a school record in the 100 butterfly with a prelim time of 46.59 to advance him to the A final. That same year, 18 Mountaineers earned medals at the four-day championship with eight All-Big 12 First Team performances and 12 All-Big 12 Second Team honors.
The Mountaineer men finished second at the 2016 Big 12 Championship, posting their best finish at the conference championship since joining the Big 12, while the women’s squad finished fourth.
Academically, junior Nathan Howells was named the 2015-16 Big 12 Men’s Swimming and Diving Scholar-Athlete of the Year, the third Scholar-Athlete of the Year award for the men’s squad and the fourth overall for the WVU swimming and diving program. Howells also was named to the 2016 Academic All-District At-Large Team. Additionally, 24 members of the WVU swimming and diving team were named to the 2016 Academic All-Big 12 Team.
During the 2014–2015 season, Dennis’s coaching led WVU sprinters Marsh and Squires to swim qualifying standards for the 2015 NCAA Championships. Squires qualified again in both the 50 and 100 freestyle. Marsh qualified in the 100 backstroke 100 butterfly and 100 freestyle with qualifying times of 46.27 and 43.59. Additionally, Marsh’s time of 46.27 is ranked among college swimming’s fastest 100 backstrokes of all time.
Dennis helped multiple swimmers to conference and NCAA distinctions in 2013–2014 as well. Mountaineer great Bohman was named the Big 12 Swimmer of the Year after setting school records in the 100 backstroke (45.29), 200 backstroke (1:39.83), and 100 butterfly (46.76). Bohman’s 100 backstroke ranks 19th all-time in the United States, and his 200 backstroke ranks him 20th all-time. Bohman was a two-time All American that season, and the WVU men placed 23rd at the NCAA Championships. Dennis also coached Squires to a historic performance at the 2014 Big 12 Championship. Squires picked up WVU’s first individual Big 12 titles since being in the conference. Squires won the 50 freestyle, touching the wall in 19.32 to take the victory and achieve his NCAA “A” cut. Squires also won the 100 freestyle, marking the first time in history that Texas lost both the 50 and 100 freestyle events in the same conference championship meet. Squires earned the Men’s Outstanding Swimmer of the Meet honor for those performances and also ranks among the best all-time in the U.S. in the 50 freestyle.
The 2012–2013 season was WVU’s inaugural season in the Big 12, and Dennis helped coach the women’s team to a second-place finish at the 2013 Big 12 Championship. Rachael Burnett was named the Big 12 Most Outstanding Swimmer, finishing first in the 200 freestyle, 500 freestyle and 1,650 freestyle events. Burnett also received Honorable Mention All-America recognition at the NCAA Championships that year, while Mandie Nugent became the first female swimmer in WVU history to be named a first team All-American with a seventh-place finish in the 200-yard butterfly. Nugent’s time of 1:54.43 ranks 34th all-time in the U.S.
On the men’s side in the 2012–2013 season, Dennis led Julien Vialette and Ross Glegg to sub-20.0 swims in the 50 free at the Big 12 Championship with times of 19.90 and 19.95, respectively. In the 100 free, four Mountaineer sprinters placed in the top eight of the event. Swims like these helped bolster WVU’s sprinting presence in the conference alongside perennial powerhouse Texas.
The 2011–2012 season was highlighted by the women’s squad finishing 26th at the 2012 NCAA Championships. Burnett, Nugent, Katas Fodor, and Danielle Smith earned Honorable Mention All-America honors as part of the 16th-place 800 freestyle relay team. Burnett earned the recognition twice more, finishing 14th in the 500 free and 11th in the 1,650 freestyle. At that same championship meet, teammate Nugent finished ninth in the 200 butterfly, also earning Honorable Mention All-American.
At the 2012 Big East Championship earlier that season, the women’s team took third place and the men finished fourth, as 15 members of the squad earned All-Big East honors. Burnett and Nugent led the women with seven top-three finishes, while Taylor Camp had three for the men. Burnett was named the Big East Women’s Most Outstanding Swimmer, and Nugent qualified for the NCAA Championships meet.
Before coming to West Virginia, Dennis had a two-year stint at the University of California-San Diego, where he served as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. Prior to his stay at UC-San Diego, Dennis spent three years at Princeton, where he was an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator under U.S. National Team Manager Susan Teeter.
From 2000–2002, Dennis worked as a graduate assistant at Michigan under world-renowned coaches Jim Richardson and Jon Urbanchek. He earned his master’s degree in kinesiology/exercise physiology in 2002. During his time at Michigan, the women’s team ranked in the top 20 in the country and the men were in the top 10.
Dennis put together an impressive undergraduate career at Western Illinois, where he earned a degree in exercise science/biomechanics in 2000. He was part of a six-time conference championship program, swimming the 100 back, 200 backstroke, 100 butterfly, 1,650 free, 400 individual medley, and also diving two seasons. Under Hall of Fame Coach Jerry Champer, Dennis was an eight-time all-conference swimmer.
Dennis and his wife, Hillary, have two sons, Jameson and Hudson.