Swimming: Excitement in pool Benson's aim

By Shane Hurndell

Willie Benson is back in the Bay and adamant coaching will be the priority over competitive swimming for him.

However there is a revenge mission the new Heretaunga Sundevils assistant coach has placed in his diary.

"Andy beat me over 50m fly back in 2005 and it's time to get him back," Benson said, pointing to the Sundevils head coach Andy McClay.

McClay replied: "You never know ... if Willie beats me we might be able to entice him to represent the club at the North Island Masters championships we're hosting later in the year."

Benson, 24, who swam in New Zealand's 4 x 100m freestyle relay team who finished 11th at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is thrilled to be home and involved with a club he represented for seven years before heading to Auckland in 2006.

"While it's a great opportunity to give something back to a club which provided me with a lot of fond memories, it's also a lifestyle change for me ... an opportunity to be around the family again," Benson, a son of Cook Strait conqueror Pat Benson, said.

The 2008 Oceania championships gold medallist will have direct input into all the Sundevils' programmes that cater for 90 swimmers.

"I want to help members of the club's squads have fun times like we used to. I want swimmers to be excited about coming to training every day," Benson said.

"Bringing back the team environment, getting the culture right and balancing hard work with skills and technique are all priorities for me.

"I'm here for the long-term and I want to help Andy and the rest of our coaches get the Sundevils back to the No1 club in the Bay. There's no reason why we can't be ranked among the top two clubs in the country, like we were back in 2005," Benson said.

He believed promising youngsters should remain with their families until the end of their secondary school education before heading to the cities in an attempt to further their swimming careers.

"If swimmers are mature enough and know what they want to accomplish, then I would advise them to give it a crack. If you go too early you can be blown out of the water ... I remember when I left the first six months were pretty tough.

"In saying that, I believe these recommended changes to the national scene, which have come not before time, will mean a better future for swimmers if they decide to stick around their provincial centres," Benson said.

"All the facilities are here, there's lots of lane space ... we're blessed with the set-up and right environment. We all know the talent is here ... it's just a case of harnessing it and getting into the work."

A winner of two golds (50m and 100m fly) and a silver (50m freestyle) at his last New Zealand Open championships in 2010, Benson rated 15-year-olds Emily Roberts and Emma Godwin and Jim Missen, 13, as top Sundevils prospects.

"Below that, I can see another wave of swimmers building."

McClay said Benson's arrival had allowed some restructuring of the club's squad and the splitting of senior and junior swimmers.

"It's a pretty exciting time ... the only way we can go from here is up."

Benson and McClay will get an indication of whether they have closed the gap with the Bay's top clubs, Greendale and Napier Aquahawks, when the Hawke's Bay Poverty Bay winter championships are staged in August.

"Between now and then the emphasis will be on good gains and skills and technique work," Benson said.

A 12-handicapper at golf, Benson, had a stint in Ireland before returning to the Bay, coaching swimming there as well as playing rugby for the Clontarf club in Dublin. He was a midfield back for the club's second-grade side.

Since returning to the Bay, Benson has played openside flanker for the MAC premiers, a side for which his father is an assistant coach.

"Rugby is my main sporting outlet now. It's good to take a step back from competitive swimming," Benson said.

"Training with a squad once a week on a Friday morning is enough these days."

However, it will be no surprise if that training increases as his clash with McClay gets closer!

We all know how competitive those Bensons are.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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