By Max Goodwin
Paul Winkeler has won 16 total awards from different sources for Coach of the Year while serving as Rockhurst’s head coach of the swim & dive team. Seven of those are from the Missouri State High School Activities Association, Missouri’s high school sports governing body.
The seventh award from MSHSAA, the 16th overall award, was announced last week after Rockhurst won another state championship last season — setting a new state record for most team points ever scored at a state championship meet.
“It was a special year,” Winkeler said. “The talent that we had on the team, the depth that we had, but also all the kids buying into what their job was. Each kid knew their job at state and did it to perfection.”
Winkeler has won 14 state championships since coaching at Rockhurst in 1999 — a state record in Missouri. Last year was Rockhurst’s third consecutive state title. There were 16 graduating seniors from that team, however, which leaves a significant challenge to win another state championship. It also opens new opportunities for younger swimmers.
Two of last year’s seniors will compete in college. Caden Francois will be a freshman swimmer at Notre Dame after winning a back-stroke and two relay state titles as a Rockhurst senior. As a senior, John Tegan was an All-American on two relay state championship teams and is now swimming at MIT.
“It was all those guys that were just such leaders that, I mean, really made this happen,” Winkeler said. “And especially the parents. I definitely cannot do this without our parents.”
Known as “Coach Wink” around Rockhurst, he took over the swim program almost 25 years ago with the sport with no experience. The sport was “a mystery” to him. He adopted a team mentality for a sport that hadn’t been viewed that way.
His first state championship was in 2005. From there, Rockhurst won 11 consecutive state championships until Winkeler stepped down as coach in 2015. Rockhurst now has three consecutive state championships since 2020.
Winkeler was inducted into the Rockhurst Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017 as one of the rare members who never attended Rockhurst himself.
The Coach of the Year award was announced at halftime of the home football game against Miege. By winning the Coach of the Year in Missouri, Winkeler is now eligible for the national award from the National Federation of State High School Associations, an honor he hasn’t received yet.
No coach from the state of Missouri has ever won the National Coach of the Year award for swimming and diving.
“That would be amazing,” Winkeler said. “But there’s so many good coaches out there across the country.”
News on whether Winkeler will win that award should come within the next couple of months, but with Rockhurst setting a state record for points at a state championship meet last season, it would be hard to find a more worthy candidate.
Rockhurst is about halfway through its swim and dive season. Competing in two big meets so far this season, they’ve won both the Glendale quad-meet in Springfield and the Ozark Invitational.
“They’re on pace to do a good job so far,” Winkeler said. “We graduated 16 seniors. We miss those guys a lot, but it’s also exciting. Our mantra has been, ‘This is our time,’ meaning its time for those kids who have been waiting to jump up and get those spots.”
Rockhurst competes in the COMO Invitational at Mizzou Aquatic Center in Columbia on Sept. 29 and 30. They look to maintain their state championship streak and win the fourth title in a row.