Little did he know that he would find a diver and coach in the same house when IUP swim coach Chris Villa heard that the school would be revitalizing its diving program.
Allison Brownlee, a Derry graduate who attended Division II Delta State in Mississippi, transferred to IUP to use her last two years of athletic fitness. Her mother, Trish, a longtime high school dive coach in Derry, Ligonier Valley and Latrobe, came on board as a dive coach for the Crimson Hawks.
Villa said Trish’s hiring came in after Allison decided to switch to IUP. He said it happened organically after learning of her credentials as a coach and former standout diver at Pitt as she had conversations with both ladies during the transfer process.
It is Trish Brownlee’s first experience coaching college divers.
“Since I was in high school, she said, ‘I’d love to be a college coach. I’d love to try the college world,'” Allison said. “We usually call her ‘Coach Mom,’ just because I’m so used to her called mother.”
Trish added: “I coached in high school for over 18 years and always wanted to teach, but starting a family came first. (IUP) gave me another opportunity to add to my resume and grow as a college coach. It has been fantastic to work with a group of girls who are willing to take a chance to dive and work with me as a freshman coach.”
The other two divers, Allie McKinney and Jordyn Burkey, came in relatively raw. Burkey was a high school gymnast and McKinney, Villa said, was largely self-taught. Trish Brownlee’s input has been valuable to both.
“She’s a great teacher, and I think diving, especially you have to have a skill to teach these kids,” he said. “She does a great job teaching and empowering those girls to fulfill their potential.”
This season marks the school’s first deployment of divers in 15 years and Villa is excited about what this means for the future. He hopes to add more divers, including on the men’s side, to help IUP be more successful.
“Nationally we were a pretty competitive program and diving was the missing piece,” he said. “If we want to get to that top 10 or top eight or even better… (diving) was an opportunity to add points nationally that weren’t there.”
Said Allison: “I think that was one of the reasons I was attracted to IUP, because they just started the program. To be one of the first to be back would be a really cool experience.”
She made an immediate impression. In her first meeting – against Saint Vincent on November 6 – she set a school record in the 1-meter dive (418.85 points) and qualified for the Division II national meeting. She is believed to be the first IUP woman to qualify for the NCAA Dive Championships, and it will be her first experience at NCAAs anyway.
She also scores points as a swimmer. A distance freestyler, Allison was a swimmer and diver with Delta State during her freshman and sophomore years. But between a shoulder injury that forced her to dress red for the 2019-20 season and last season’s covid disruptions, she hadn’t competed since her sophomore year.
The injury has improved significantly – although she said she is still doing therapy to keep the shoulder limber – and she has swum regularly for the Crimson Hawks. In double encounters – IUP is 5-0 – she has done the 200 free relay, 100 free (third place vs. Gannon), 200 free (second vs. Edinboro), and 500 free.
Her contributions could go a long way to help the Crimson Hawks defend their conference championship. The women won their first PSAC title since 1999 last season, and with the return of top athletes such as reigning PSAC Swimmer of the Year Paige Mikesell, plus the added points from the divers, IUP looks poised for a repeat.
“All the goals we set really pushed everyone to train harder on the field,” says Allison, who coaches Indiana High School divers in addition to her master’s degree and competitions. “I’m pretty confident in how everyone has worked. … I definitely think we have a good chance of a repeat.”
And that would be the icing on the cake for the mother-daughter team reunited by the pool.
“The four years she was with Delta State, I really missed coaching her,” said Trish. “As a coach and mother, I needed her to grow in what she wanted to do with her life, travel and experience the outside world, except Derry, Pa.
“We have this mother/coach/daughter bond and I’m happy to be able to share it with IUP again.”
Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck via email at email@example.com or via Twitter .