March 31, 2023

One “final swim” for Coach P

NCMP swimmers give long-time head coach a strong exit

It was hard for long-time NCMP head coach Sarah Patterson to sum up her time leading the Aquagirls program.

“I guess it boils down to coaching people to be their personal best — not just in the pool, but for now and for life,” Patterson said. “One of the biggest things I have tried to teach is mental toughness through our sport of swimming. Life is not always easy — and sometimes far from it — and how will you react when the tough times come?”

Patterson’s time as NCMP Aquagirl head coach has come to an end after 32 years — 30 of which she was the head coach.

Well, maybe. No one is really sure what’s next for Patterson. Not even she knows where she will be after next fall’s swim season concludes.

Patterson will retire from teaching after this school year. And by rule or by law, she’s unable to hold an Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS) job for a period of time after retirement starts.

So she will not be the Aquagirls’ coach for at least one season. She returned to coaching the NCMP boys’ team this winter and plans to continue to do so after retiring from teaching.

“Honestly, I don’t really know,” said Patterson when asked what’s next. “I’m going to slow down for a bit — probably not too long — and see what’s out there. I keep saying I want to work in a coffee shop or something like that, but I think I’ll really miss a leadership role. I really want to get back into Master’s swimming and possibly try to qualify for the Master’s Crossfit Games. But I’m going to see where my heart lies.”

Her heart was in the Aquagirl program for more than three decades. She is adored by her swimmers, so much so that many of her former athletes choose to return to the program in assistant coaching roles.

The two assistant coaches for the past few seasons have been former Aquagirls Jenny Jensen and Hannah Scotton.

Jensen has decided to hang up her whistle and clipboard after this season, too.

Scotton is a teacher in the district but is unsure what her plans are next year as far as coaching goes.

The ideal situation for the district, to me, would be to find a temporary solution at head coach for one season and then bring back Patterson in 2024 if she wants to return.

“I love developing leadership in people,” Patterson said. “When you see a senior blossom into a leadership role that they didn’t even know they were capable of — it’s pure magic. I also have loved working with all of the people I have been blessed to coach with: Chris Forsyth, Dave Hook, Quinn Knepper, Tom Oppelt, and then — of course — former swimmers Jenny Jensen and Hannah Scotton and now, (assistant boys swim coach) Lucas Warner. You are with these people a lot — and they become close friends.”

Patterson loves to be called coach. She will certainly miss that.

“I’m sure I’ll see former athletes that will still call me that,” Patterson said. “I have had the most wonderful athletes and families — that is a huge part of why I coached for so long. I will miss all of them. It’s been an awesome journey of a lifetime — and one I have been blessed to have.”

Patterson’s final event as NCMP head coach — at least for now — was the state meet this past weekend at the Marshalltown YMCA.

The Aquagirls, like they have done so much in the past, had plenty of success competing in an all-class meet.

NCMP registered four top-20 and three top-15 finishes.

After the meet, plenty of tears were shed. Some of them were no doubt flowing because of Patterson’s departure.

“Working hard and pushing through mentally allows you to push through other hard things, too,” Patterson said. “We have heard from so many former athletes about how swimming helped them get through school, helped them through labor and helped them through some of life’s challenges like divorce, illness, etc. I know I would not be the person I am today without swimming.”

Contact Troy Hyde at