New Plum assistant swim coach faces alma mater, sister
Todd Slobodnyak made a name for himself in the pool during his time as a member of the Gateway varsity swim team.
He qualified for WPIALs several times and created memories with his teammates at Pitt's Trees Pool.
Slobodnyak made the transition to college swimming and found a home at Westminster College in New Wilmington, and he continued to make an impact in the water.
After graduating from Westminster, he wanted to remain involved with swimming, and coaching was the next step for him.
When he returned to the area, he looked for a coaching job, and he found it at Plum, one of Gateway's biggest swimming rivals.
On Thursday, Plum, with Slobodnyak in the fold, swam at Gateway.
“It was exciting,” he said.
“It was a little different being on the other side of the pool. The kids knew (Gateway) is my alma mater, and they were determined to swim well. There were a lot of great swims (on Thursday). It was nice to come back and coach against the guy who taught me how to swim.”
That guy is Gateway head coach Jason Kunkle, who said he is proud of his former Gators swimmer.
“I know he's doing a great job,” Kunkle said. “He gives 100 percent to Plum, and he's a big reason for their success this season. He offers a lot of youthful enthusiasm. It's neat seeing swimmers you coached go on to become coaches. I have nothing but respect for Todd.”
On the other side of the pool from the Plum assistant coach was his sister, Rachel, a junior on the Gateway girls squad.
Rachel Slobodnyak swam the 500 free and the 200 free, and she placed third in the 500 and fourth in the 200.
“I was kind of nervous, because he would freak me out by telling me the other girl (for Plum) was better than me,” Rachel Slobodnyak said with a laugh.
“But he still supports me, and we talk about my swims a lot.”
She and Plum's Rachael Adamski battled in both the 200 and 500 frees, and Adamski took second in the 500 and third in the 200.
“It pushed both of them, and they both dropped time,” Todd Slobodnyak said.
“I've come back a number of times before to see my sister swim, and it's exciting to see the rivalry still there.”
The siblings' mother, Kay, said he was torn during the meet.
“I want to see them both win,” she said.
“The best thing to hope for was a tie.
“I'm excited for Todd. He loves swimming, and it's such a big part of his life. I had no doubt that he would become a coach.”
Todd Slobodnyak also serves as the head coach for the East Suburban Plum YMCA team.
He said he has learned a lot from Shawn Haupt, Plum's head coach, and Kelly Haupt, the head coach for the Plum teams through last season.
Todd Slobodnyak also competed for both Haupts while a swimmer in the ESPY program.
“You have to put a personal touch on every swimmer and see what will help them do their best,” he said. “Shawn does that well, and I am just trying to learn from him.”
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.