Swim club starts new season with new coaches on deck

Benny Westcott

When Kelly Sautel first became the Sweet Home Swim Club’s new head coach late last year, she was on the deck for only two weeks before COVID-19 concerns closed the community pool. Not another splash was made until February.

But the layoff didn’t stop her from working to improve the program, organizing Zoom meetings with participants and creating and overseeing “dry land” circuits to keep them active.

The club held tryouts Friday, Sept. 24, to begin practicing for their short course (25-yard pool) season. The first meet of the season is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 16.

Sautel took over the program from Jackie Price, who ran the team for only a few months in late 2020. Its previous coach, Bruce Davis, was a four-year leader. Sautel calls him her “mentor” and the person who “has helped and encouraged me to take this new role as the new head coach.”

She had club connections already as an assistant coach, a position she’d held for two years before accepting the top spot. She’s also worked as a stroke-and-turn official for Oregon Swimming Inc. for the past four years.

Sautel herself started in the water at a very young age, calling herself a “water baby,” swimming at a local country club and enjoyed the waters of Lake Havasu during summer family trips to Arizona.

She graduated in 1997 from San Gorgonio High School in San Bernardino, Calif., where, as Kelly Goddard, she’s a member of its athletic hall of fame with numerous accolades to her credit: four-year swim team MVP, school record-holder in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle, and an All-American in the former event. She also played water polo.

Her accomplishments continued in NCAA Division I competition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She holds an All-Time school Top 10 time in the 50-free and as a part of the 200- and 400-free relay teams. She was named All Mountain West Conference in 2000 and 2001, her junior and senior years, qualifying for the NCAAs in the 50 free in 2001. Her best time in that event was 23.24 seconds, while topping off at 52.5 in the 100 free.

“I think I’m really goal-oriented,” Sautel said of these successes. “If I have a time for an event that I want in my head, that’s motivation for me, and I’m doing everything I can in the water to strive to make that goal.”

After graduating from UNLV with a degree in psychology in 2001, she began working as a spa coordinator at the city’s Mandalay Bay resort and casino. Then she spent time as a marketing director at various area senior living facilities before returning to Southern California, handling business development at VNA Hospice & Palliative Care of Southern California in Ontario for five years.

In 2005, she married longtime friend Keith Sautel (she’d known him since she was five), a former UNLV athlete himself in its soccer and baseball programs. They have two daughters, Kirsten and Khloe.

In late 2011, the family decided to search for a new place to call home..

“We wanted to raise our girls [at the time, Kirsten was five and Khloe was two] in a different environment, away from some of the riff-raff in Southern California, if you will,” Kelly explained. “We wanted to own land.”

As it turned out, one of her best friends and UNLV teammates, Rachel Tyler, then lived in Sweet Home, and the Sautels would often come to visit. Keith would also ride motocross in Washougal, Wash. So the family interviewed for jobs in the Pacific Northwest, ultimately settling in Sweet Home that year.

“We love it,” Kelly said of the area. “We can go hiking, camping and boating. It’s gorgeous here.”

Upon arriving in Oregon, she worked at Willamette Valley Hospice in Salem before taking her current position as business development coordinator at Albany’s Samaritan Evergreen Hospice in July 2013. Keith worked as a firefighter/paramedic for the Sweet Home Fire & Ambulance District for nearly four years, then accepted a similar position at the Albany Fire Department in 2016.

Kelly had taken a break from swimming after college, but after moving to Oregon, she found a passion for running in the state’s considerably cooler weather. This turned into an interest in triathlons, which rekindled her love for swimming. She estimates that she’s participated in 15 such events, including Sweet Home’s annual Best in the West.

“Triathlons got me back in the pool, which I missed,” she said. “I missed that feeling of working out and feeling good about myself. It makes me a better mom, wife and coach.”

The Sweet Home Swim Club had 25 members when Kelly took over in November 2020. That number’s down to 18 this year, but she said she’s “trying to double that” as well as launch a “masters” program for people over 18, because she’s seen interest from adults, particularly triathletes.

“Our goal is to get kids to love the sport, while understanding that you need to do a lot of work to be successful,” she said. “We try to build a team atmosphere, even though it is an individualized sport in some ways. We try to make practices fun and unique and different to encourage attendance.

“I’m very goal-driven,” she added. “I know what the goals are for each individual swimmer, and I design sets that are specific to those types of goals for the kids.”

She admitted to fighting burnout in her swimming career sometimes, and today she strives to help her swimmers do the same.

“It’s about just watching the kids, and making sure that they still love the sport,” she said. “When you need a break, it’s OK to have a break. Open communication constantly is important.”

The SHSC puts participants into four groups based on skill level: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Bronze is entry level. Silver focuses primarily on learning four legal competitive strokes. Gold-group swimmers display a desire to train on a more committed basis, while platinum participants work to perform at the highest level possible.

Sautel’s joined on staff by new assistant coach Jessica Coats, who swam for the team from 2013 to 2016 and was a member of SHHS’s 2016 and 2017 girls state championship teams.

During her high school career, she was the state champion in the 100-meter backstroke, a four-year district champ in the 100-meter butterfly, and part of state-record-holding 200- and 400-meter freestyle teams. She swam one year at Wagner College in Staten Island, N.Y., before transferring to Western Oregon in Monmouth, where she’s a senior majoring in elementary education. Sweet Home is her home base, where she lives with fiance Josh Rice.

She enters her third year as a swim coach, but her first for the SHSC, having coached previously at Courtside Aquatic in Salem.

She spoke highly of “the drive that swimming gives you.”

“I’ve always loved to compete,” she said, “and swimming has always given me an opportunity to do that. My biggest thing is I want the kids to have fun. I’ve always liked coaching the younger kids. When it becomes too much about racing and improving and who’s going to state, a lot of kids drop out. But if you love swimming and you’re having fun, you’ll stick around.”

“I would love to be someone who could coach the next state champ,” she added. “And I would like to see the program grow. We have a pretty small team, so it would be nice to double in size.”

When not at the pool, Coats enjoys camping and spending time with friends.