Otters take to the pool with new coach

By on May 12, 2016
ON DECK Merritt Otters’ coaches Jensen Cavaliere and Gabriel Lee frame a small group of young swimmers during practice on Monday. Lee, from Delta, is the new head coach of the club. Ian Webster/Herald

After a very successful winter maintenance program, members of the Merritt Otters swim club hit the water at the Nicola Valley Aquatic Centre last week to officially begin their annual spring-summer season.

Otters’ registrar Jen Lisle reported that currently there are 38 registered swimmers with the club — over 30 of those being returnees.

“Registration is on-going,” Lisle said, “and we have room for a few more, although the club can only accommodate so many youngsters given the number of lanes that are made available to us for training.”

Lisle went on to say that the Otters’ membership is extremely excited about the arrival this week of the club’s new coach, Gabriel Lee.

The 20-year-old Lee hails from Delta, and has just completed his sophomore (second) year at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, where he is studying criminology and competing for the SFU Clan varsity men’s swim team.

Lee started swimming at the age of six, and competed for three seasons with a summer swim club like Merritt before joining a year-round winter club at age 12.

Lee has held two previous assistant coaching positions with the Boundary Bay Bluebacks and the Winskill Dolphins out of Tsawwassan. It was the opportunity to be a head coach for the first time that attracted him to Merritt — as well as the opportunity to spend a summer in the sunny Interior and close to the Okanagan.

“Apart from being at school at SFU, this is my first real experience away from home and the Lower Mainland,” Lee said. “I’m very excited.”

Competitively, Lee is enjoying an excellent collegiate swimming career at Simon Fraser. The backstroke specialist, who also swims freestyle and butterfly, already holds one individual school record, and is a member of several record-setting relay teams.

This past season, Lee was one of a dozen Clan swimmers who competed at the NCAA Division II national indoor swimming championships in Indianapolis, Indiana.

After a great junior swimming career, Lee chose SFU because of its up-and-coming varsity program, the opportunity to get an athletic scholarship, and its prestigious criminology program.

“I’m not sure where the degree is going to take me yet,” said Lee, “but I’m really enjoying my studies.”

Lee has nothing but positive things to say about his first few days in Merritt and with the Otters’ club.

“It’s been great. Each day has been better than the previous one. I’m having a lot of fun. Working with summer club swimmers can be hit-and-miss sometimes in terms of their commitment and effort, but the swimmers here have been fantastic. The kids have been hanging off my every word.”

Lee coaches the club’s most experienced and advanced swimmers five mornings a week starting at 6:30 a.m. (B-r-r-r). He also has two afternoon sessions with younger swimmers, running from 4:15 to 6:30 p.m. There is also daily dryland training from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m. away from the pool.

Lee is being capably assisted by Otters’ product Jensen Cavaliere. The 16-year-old, Grade 11 student at Merritt Secondary School is officially in charge of the club’s youngest swimmers, ages six-and-under. They convene daily in the water from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m.

Lee, who is living on-campus at NVIT while he is in Merritt, said he likes working with young swimmers who are hard-working, driven to some extent, and goal-oriented.

“I don’t like to set limits. I’m constantly raising the bar and encouraging them to seek higher standards for themselves.”

Lisle said the club is looking forward to having a full-time coach this summer, after failing to secure someone last year. She hopes Lee will be a role model for the club’s swimmers, and someone they really look up to — both in the water and away from it.

For more information on the Merritt Otters swim club, contact Lisle at 250-378-9687 or email

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