Recently hired as coach of the Greenwich High School girls swimming team, Brendan Heller is eager to begin the next chapter of his coaching career.
“Becoming Greenwich’s coach is a tremendous honor because of the legacy and tradition of the program,” Heller said. “This is an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often. I’m extremely excited to get going with the team, which has had unparalleled success.”
Heller takes over the helm for Lorrie Hokayem, who resigned at the conclusion of Greenwich’s 2020 season after spending seven successful seasons as coach of the Cardinals.
Hokayem, who took over Greenwich’s girls varsity swim program in 2014, coached the Cardinals to five CIAC Class LL team championships (2014-2018), four State Open titles, including four straight from 2015 to 2018 and two FCIAC championships (2017, 2018).
The Cardinals won the FCIAC West Division championship this past fall under Hokayem’s guidance. The FCIAC, Class LL and State Open championships were not held due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Numerous All-American, All-State and All-FCIAC athletes competed on Hokayem’s Greenwich swim teams, one of whom was All-American performer Meghan Lynch, who will soon continue her swimming career at Stanford University. Lynch recently competed in the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Neb. Kelly Montesi, a rising senior at Villanova University, was also coached by Hokayem at Greenwich. Montesi, who earned All-America honors at GHS, was named the Most Outstanding Swimmer at the Big East Championships in April – an event Villanova has won for the eighth straight season.
Hokayem was named the Connecticut High School Girls Swim Coach of the Year for the 2016 season by the CHSCA. Greenwich High School athletic director Gus Lindine announced the hiring of Heller on Thursday. The Cardinals’ new coach is looking forward to experiencing the rivalries and competition that exists in the challenging FCIAC, which includes formidable swim squads such as New Canaan, Darien, Ridgefield and Staples and teams on the rise like Trumbull.
“I think the FCIAC is arguably the toughest conference in every sport in the state, especially in swimming,” Heller said. “You can be the best team in the state and not win the FCIAC conference championship. That is going to be a challenge in itself, so it should be exciting. Darien, Ridgefield, New Canaan and Cheshire at the state level – those big meets bring out the best in teams.”
Heller, who recently spoke to Greenwich’s 2021 captains Esme Merrill, Emma Robinson, Caterina Li and Isabella Malchow, spent the past winter as the boys varsity coach at Woodland Regional High School – a role he plans on continuing this winter, after Greenwich’s girls fall swim season concludes. During Woodland’s 2020-21 campaign it broke 11 of 13 team records and was led by All-American performer Jake Arisian, a rising senior. Woodland placed a close second in the teams standings behind Holy Cross at the NVL Championships.
“Woodland is a rival of Naugatuck, which is where I grew up and went to school, so it has been a unique and very enjoyable coaching experience for me,” said Heller, who resides in Orange, Conn.
Heller has previous experience coaching in the town of Greenwich. He headed the swim team at Sacred Heart Greenwich, where the Tigers registered 36-16-1 dual meet record over four seasons. He also worked in the athletic department at Sacred Heart. A graduate of Bryant University, where he captained the swim team, Heller also serves as the Riverside Yacht Club’s head swim coach coach and aquatics director for their summer program – a position he’s held for five years.
“Knowing the background of Greenwich swimming and coaching in the summer with Riverside helps, since I have some connections and I know some of the families and feeder programs in town,” he said. “At Greenwich, I want the JV program to be a strong feeder program. I want it to be competitive and fun and have it grow.
While coaching at Iona Prep, Heller was named the New York CHSAA Division II Coach of the Year for completing an undefeated dual meet season in 2016. Most recently, Heller was an assistant swimming coach for the men and women programs at Carnegie Mellon University, where he helped lead 24 student-athletes to achieve CSCAA Division III All-American status during the 2019-20 season.
“We were going to compete in the National Championships, but the season got cut short due to COVID,” Heller said. “It’s unfortunate how that great season ended. Then we didn’t have a Division III season this past season (due to the COVID-19 pandemic).”
Heller will coach in his first meet for Greenwich when the team hosts Fairfield Warde on Sept. 10.
“I’ve learned from all the coaching opportunities I’ve had,” he said. “I feel as though I am well prepared and I am going to keep on learning. What I look forward to most as I start coaching at Greenwich is getting to know everybody on the team, seeing what motivates them and trying to get everyone on the same page. When you have such great club swimming programs in the area like they have in Greenwich, it will be nice to see them arrive at our first practice ready to swim. I couldn’t be more excited and grateful for this coaching opportunity.”