BEREA, Ohio – If you ask Laura Demaline what her favorite part is about being on a pool deck, she will say that it's watching the perfect race come together at the Ohio Athletic Conference Championships.
"When a swimmer who has worked for an entire season swims that perfect race and when they touch the wall and look at the clock, the look on their face is priceless," Demaline explains. "When they turn to the sideline and smile at our team, those are my favorite memories."
Getting to that moment on the deck at the University of Akron's Ocasek Natatorium has been a journey from an 11 year old just getting started in the sport to serious athlete eventually to college coach.
Demaline's coaching career first got started when she was 14 years old, helping out with a local country club's summer swim team. Throughout high school and college, her summers consisted of lifeguarding and coaching as her passion for the sport just continued to grow.
Following her collegiate career at NCAA Division I St. Bonaventure (N.Y.) University, Demaline realized that she was "not quite ready to be done with the sport of swimming" so she added an extra step to her law school application process – finding a graduate assistant position.
Early into her process at Cleveland State University, Wally Morton (whose wife taught at BW in the Heath & Physical Education department) informed Demaline that first-year law students were not permitted to be graduate assistants. Devastated, she found herself at a crossroads: law school or coaching.
"I guess I thought I would always get to keep coaching and that was one of the reasons I was so excited about going to the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law," Demaline recalled.
Demaline expressed her disappointment to her mother, who encouraged her to explore every option. Through that conversation, Demaline was also reminded that a former coach in Jerry Holtrey had always said she would make a good coach.
With a new plan in place of becoming both a teacher and a coach, Demaline instead applied to the Master of Education program in addition to a local high school coaching job.
From there, the newly-married Demaline moved to Buffalo, New York, to continue her degree at the University of Buffalo and help coach at NCAA Division I Canisius College. When the Canisius head coach announced he was leaving, Athletic Director Tim Dillon found the program's future in Demaline.
"He was interested in someone young to take over and rebuild the program at Canisius and would I be interested?" Demaline remembered. "He took a leap of faith on me and I will be forever grateful because it was the final push I needed to pursue what had always been my passion – coaching swimming."
After moving back to the area to become the head coach at Lake Shore Swim Club, Demaline was standing on the Rocky River High School pool deck when she received a call from Director of Athletics Kris A. Diaz '78. A head coaching position at Baldwin Wallace University had just recently opened up, proving to be an opportunity tough to resist.
BW has always been a part of Demaline's life as both her father and her godfather were involved in Yellow Jacket athletics. A 1975 graduate of the University, her father swam for the Yellow Jackets and was a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity while her godfather played football.
"Growing up, I had always heard about the 'glory days' out at Baldwin Wallace," Demaline said. "While leaving Lake Shore at the beginning of short course season had never been my plan, the opportunity to coach at BW – a place I had heard so many wonderful things about growing up – plus the opportunity to be back on a college pool deck (which I had missed so much) seemed like something I could not pass up," Demaline explained.
Demaline had stepped away from college coaching when her daughter Adella was 2 years old, fearful that she could not continue at the Division I level and be the type of mom she wanted to be. However, BW offered exactly the kind of family atmosphere that she was looking for.
"It was a place I knew I could build something special but also a place that would be supportive of me as a whole person," Demaline commented. "I could be a coach and a mom at BW, and that meant the world to me."
Her first day on campus was also the first day of official practice with the first meet just a few weeks away. With a lot of work to catch up on, her biggest focus in those first few seasons was shifting the team to a culture of trust.
"I think the early teams realized that I wanted to be at BW and I was committed to turning things around for the program," Demaline said.
Almost eight years later, Demaline has led the Yellow Jackets to success both in and out of the pool. During her tenure, she has coached 22 Ohio Athletic Conference champions, four OAC Divers of the Year, 65 All-OAC performers, two All-OAC relay teams, four national qualifiers, three NCAA Division III All-Americans, 21 OAC Swimmers/Divers of the Week, 23 Academic All-OAC student-athletes and two Academic All-Americans.
Additionally, Demaline also serves as the assistant coordinator of Student-Athlete Services and the co-moderator for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).
"As coaches at Baldwin Wallace, we each have secondary responsibilities that we take on so that our athletic department can be at its best for our athletes," Demaline said. "I am very passionate about offering our Yellow Jacket athletes the best experience we can and serving in the role of moderator for SAAC and coordinating the Student-Athlete services programming allows me to do that."
In terms of offering the best experience, one thing that Demaline hopes she's personally instilled throughout an athlete's four-year career is a sense of pride in themselves and what they've done in the pool.
"They've helped build something bigger than themselves," Demaline explained. "I hope that they've grown to be confident in the person they are and that they are proud of the imprint they have made on our program and school. We ask each swimmer and diver to try to leave the program better than how they found it."
The athlete-coach relationship runs both ways as there are a number of lessons that Demaline has learned from her student-athletes, including the importance of trust.
"Throughout my time at Baldwin Wallace, I have learned just how important that relationship is," Demaline said. "There has to be trust. It is important that our athletes know we care about them as people, not just as swimmers."
Moving forward, Demaline remains committed to developing the program with well-rounded student-athletes at the center.
"We have a group of swimmers and divers that are committed to winning a conference championship and achieving goals at the national level," Demaline finished. "They are working hard to achieve at the highest athletic level they can, but they are kicking butt in the classroom and within their campus organizations too. They really are doing it all. It is possible and anyone who tells you it isn't, isn't being honest with you. At Baldwin Wallace, we are committed to developing the whole student-athlete."