Missouri State swimming and diving assistant coach Chelsea Dirks-Ham spoke to Bears All-Access about the women's team's preparation before they begin action at the 2015 MVC Championship on Wednesday, Feb. 18, in Carbondale, Ill.
Chelsea Dirks-Ham begins her sixth season on head coach Dave Collins' staff and fourth as an assistant coach for the Bears in 2016-17. Previously, she served as a graduate assistant in 2012-13 and volunteer assistant in 2011-12.
Dirks-Ham played a significant role in MSU advancing a swimmer -- Artur Osvath -- to the NCAA Championships for a fourth straight year during the 2015-16 season, the longest stretch in program history. Osvath eventually finished 17th in the 200 breast, the second-highest finish ever for a Bears swimmer at the national stage.
She also kelped key MSU's continued performance among the best in the Bears' respective conferences last year. Despite the women's team falling by just a half a point at the Missouri Valley Conference, the Bears improved from two to seven NCAA consideration times. Dora Kiss also extended the squad's streak of MVC Swimmer of the Year nods to six. Under her guidance, Uvis Kalnins was named Mid-American Conference Outstanding Senior of the Year after he captured three-peats in both the 200 IM and 400 IM, while Miguel Davila earned his third conference title in the 1650 free. In all, the men's team accumulated a total of 23 NCAA consideration times.
The 2014-15 season may have been one of the most memorable years during Dirks-Ham's coaching tenure on both the men's and women's teams.
The Bears won their eighth straight Missouri Valley Conference crown on the women's side, tying the University of Virginia for the second-longest active streak in NCAA Division I swimming. Missouri State won nine of the 20 events at the MVC meet, with several swimmers breaking school and conference meet records. The 200-yard IM served as a key example of Missouri State's dominant presence as the Bears went 1-2-3-5 in the A-finals and had seven of the top 14 finishers in the event. Dirks-Ham was an active member of either the team as a swimmer or coach during the Bears' eight-year reign atop the MVC.
Her contributions also positively correlated to the men's team. Despite a runner-up performance at the Mid-American Conference meet in March 2015 by a mere 20 points, the Bears dominated action in the pool by winning 11 of the 20 events overall. Missouri State had 10 swimmers achieve NCAA consideration times as two Bears -- Paul Le and Uvis Kalnins -- made their third and second respective trips to the NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championships in Iowa City in March 2015. The Bears also sent diver Garrett Nevels who gave MSU its largest contingent ever to participate at the national meet.
The Bears' assistant coach has won titles as an assistant on the women's side and also the men's side, as the Bears earned their first title as a member of the Mid-American Conference in March 2014.
In her time as a graduate assistant coach, Missouri State continued its prominence in the stroke events at the MVC Women's Swimming and Diving Championships. The Bears' women's swimmers owned the medley relays since her time as a graduate assistant, extending its streak to 12 straight victories in the 200 medley going into the 2016 championship, while they have won 11 of the past 12 400 medley relays. In 2012-13, Missouri State compiled five NCAA consideration times along with seven individual conference titles. With the exception of the 100 fly, the Bears nearly swept the stroke events at the 2013 MVC Championships in Carbondale, Illinois.
In 2012-13 alone, the women set new varsity records in six stroke events, in addition to five Valley championship records.
On the men's side, the Dirks-Ham was heavily involved with the successful postseason runs by Paul Le and Uvis Kalnins. Both set new school records at the 2013-14 NCAA Championships, while the 2012-13 campaign ended on a high note with Le becoming the Bears' first NCAA qualifier since 2005. Not only that, Le also became the first swimmer in school history to score points at the NCAA Championships with a top-16 finish in the 200 back and earn Honorable Mention All-America recognition.
During her time in Springfield, Dirks-Ham has also coached age-group swimmers for the Missouri State Aquatics club team.
Dirks-Ham remains one of the most dominant and decorated swimmers in Missouri State women's swimming & diving history. During her collegiate career, Dirks-Ham became a four-time All-MVC first-team selection and totaled 13 gold medals. She also set numerous school and conference records along the way. As a senior, she captained the Bears to their fourth-consecutive MVC title and eighth in a nine-year span. Her MSU record in the 100 butterfly (55.34), set at the 2009 MVC Championships, was broken at the Purdue Invitational by MSU record-holder Dora Kiss in November 2015.
A native of Lawrence, Kansas, Dirks-Ham earned her bachelor's degree in exercise & movement science at Missouri State in 2011.