All through college, Gyselle Hennessey ’22 felt like she never left high school. Turns out this was a fact, not just a feeling: Since her first year at the College, Hennessey had been swept back, as if in an undertow, to Amherst Regional High School.
She’d gone to ARHS and had been on its swim team, where she boasted an impressive butterfly stroke. Her coach decided she was a leader and, after Hennessey graduated, asked her to stay on as an assistant coach for the girls’ and boys’ teams. She’d share the job with Solomon Albertine, another former ARHS swimmer and now a student at Greenfield Community College.
For three years, the pair pitched in at practice, acted as mentors and traveled to the meets. Then, a wave crashed: In Hennessey’s senior year, the head coach left for a different job, and these two college students became, by default, the new head coaches. What happened after that is like Remember the Titans. Just set in a pool.
In February 2022, the girls’ team won the Division II State Championship—for the first time in program history.
The boys’ team came in a respectable fifth place. And, to add to the emotional wallop of the girls’ victory, Hennessey’s sister was part of the relay quartet that won by five seconds early on that day.
What was it like to coach a high school team when you, yourself, were barely out of high school? “I’ve always been really interested in child and adolescent psychology,” says Hennessey, a double major in math and psychology. “I want to be hands-on, providing services—and now I have experience working with a large group of kids.”
But she also admits that, when the coach left, “it was definitely a big anxiety for me.” Hennessey and Albertine had to lead the practices, not just assist, and create strategies for the meets, not just carry them out. Even while studying in Mexico in January, Hennessey Zoomed with the swimmers, writing out their practice routines. Then there were the parents. “I realized, OK, I have to be really on top of communicating with them,” she says. “My biggest thing is I have to have emails written and out as soon as possible. So that got added to my workload.”
About that workload: In addition to classes, she wrote a thesis on interpersonal emotion regulation among college students and its interactions with their mental and social health. She also sang with the Bluestockings. When asked why she took on the coaching work during her senior year, Hennessey said she knew it would be worth it. “You don’t have to do everything,” she said. “You just have to do what’s important.”
Photos: Kyle Grabowski/Daily Hampshire Gazette; courtesy Gyselle Hennessey