NHS alumna hired as coach
Zoe Coffing coaching girls swim team
Newark High’s swim team experienced an overhaul at the top after the 2017 season when longtime head coaches Brian Polaski (boys) and Bryan Stambaugh (girls) stepped down from their positions. The Yellowjackets quickly hired two former swimmers to fill both positions.
Zoe Coffing, a member of the Newark High class of 2014, was hired to coach the girls team. Brett Melcher, a 2015 graduate, is the new boys coach.
“It was incredibly exciting to be hired to coach at Newark,” Coffing, a four-time allconference swimmer, said. “Being on the swim team was one of my favorite parts of high school. I really enjoyed being at Newark and creating memories with the team.”
Coffing, who is a senior majoring in history at UD, came into the position having served most recently as a volunteer assistant coach at Newark for two years under Polaski and Stambaugh.
“I really learned a lot from that experience under them about dealing with older swimmers and refining technique instead of just teaching it,” Coffing explained.
Both of her former coaches are confident that Coffing is the right person for the job.
“Zoe is very interested in working with the kids to improve their mechanics, which is the basis of improving their performance,” Stambaugh, now retired from high school coaching, said. “Zoe is also very much invested in the team, which helps the kids to buy into the team when they see that their coach is all in.”
Polaski, now the dean of students at William Penn High School, concurred.
“Zoe’s work ethic, spirit and understanding of what it means to be a part of the tradition that is Newark swimming is second to none,” Polaski said. “She is doing a fantastic job of keeping that tradition alive.”
Coffing’s previous coaching experience included stints as an assistant coach at Nottingham Swim Club and as the head coach at Oaklands swim club.
“I started out coaching as a volunteer over the summer to fulfill my volunteer hours requirement for high school graduation,” she explained. “I quickly realized that it was similar and related to teaching, and I really fell in love with helping swimmers learn, watching them grow, and having the opportunity to positively impact their lives. Also, swimming has been a sport that connected me to my three brothers for our whole lives. I love being able to stay involved in the sport and keeping that connection with them.”
That sibling connection continues at Newark with two of her brothers. Zach is a junior on the swim team and Nathan took over his sister’s volunteer coaching position with the Yellowjackets. Notably, it was Coffing’s two years as a volunteer assistant that made this first one as a head coach even more gratifying.
“It’s been great to be back with the whole team for a third year, especially knowing that I’ve been with the entire junior class for their whole swimming careers at Newark,” she said. “I know that team meant a lot to me, and it’s just really cool to be able to watch those swimmers grow through the program like I did.”
Coffing was a four-year varsity letter-winner and in addition to her all-conference accolades was a three-time honorable mention all-state selection, primarily swimming the breaststroke. Her transition from swimming in the pool to coaching on the deck has had its challenges.
“One of the challenges I had was finding my ‘voice’ with this team,” she admitted. “Because I had been there before as an assistant, it took me a little while to feel comfortable being the one calling the shots.”
And even though she’s fallen into more of a comfort zone as the head coach, she hasn’t forgotten what she learned as a Yellowjacket swimmer.
“I copy a lot of the sets Brian and Bryan used,” she said. “I think they both did fantastic jobs and I know what they did worked so I use some of their sets verbatim and others I alter to my own taste. I also try to be really encouraging and give every swimmer specific feedback, which is something I know I always admired about Brian and Bryan.”
The Yellowjackets are 8-6 and riding a six-meet winning streak into Saturday’s Blue Hen Conference Championships, and their rookie head coach likes where they’re at as a team.
“The season so far has honestly been better than I anticipated,” she said. “We got some new swimmers on both the girls and the boys side who were pleasant surprises that have helped us a lot this year. We also have a lot of returning swimmers who have been improving and that’s been really exciting. Some of the time drops come seemingly out of nowhere, and it’s always a happy surprise.”
Several swimmers have already qualified for states and Coffing said a few more are very close and hopefully will have an opportunity to swim in preliminaries at the state meet.
“It’s exciting to begin talking about states because we do have both boys and girls who have the potential to make finals and I think we’re all looking forward to prelims,” Coffing said.
Regardless of the outcome at the state meet, as the swim season winds down, Coffing feels good about her first year at the helm of her alma mater.
“I think we’ve had a lot of fun this season as a team, and I’ve tried to connect and relate to the swimmers as well as help them individually as much as I can,” she said.
Former Newark High swimmer Zoe Coffing is wrapping up her first season as the Yellowjackets’ girls head coach.