Maybe the swimmers at Lecanto High and the Sun Coast Swim Team didn’t know just how good their coach was during her competitive swim career. But they might be starting to find out.
Because Michelle Dickemann is not the average high school coach. Not many swimmers have ever compiled a resume of her caliber.
That became crystal clear this week when Dickemann was named to the College Swimming & Diving Coaches Association’s list of the 100 greatest women’s swimmers and divers of the past century.
It’s a list that includes the likes of Katie Ledecky — a seven-time Olympic gold medalist. Two spots above Ledecky’s name is Michelle Langsford (Dickemann’s maiden name), chosen for her accomplishments at Drury University and later College of the Ozarks, both in her home state of Missouri.
“I’ve received a lot of awards and accolades over the years, but this one is pretty high on the list,” said Dickemann, taking a few minutes to speak while in the middle of coaching a practice session. “Just to be with the greatest of the great, to be on the same list is a huge compliment.”
Dickemann is still fairly new to the Citrus County swim scene. After selling the family business she helped operate for two decades, Dickemann moved into the area and got back into formal coaching as well as teaching.
Though she teaches health and physical education at Crystal River, this is her second season as the girls coach for Lecanto. She’s also on the coaching staff for Sun Coast.
But back in Springfield, Mo., she is a swimming legend. As a sophomore at Central High in 1979, she was the first female swimmer from Springfield to win a high school state championship. She would eventually go on to star at Drury, which was at the time an NAIA school located in Springfield.
Look up any swimming-related hall of fame in that vicinity and she’s been inducted. There’s the Springfield Area Sports Hall of Fame, the Drury University Hall of Fame, the NAIA Swimming Hall of Fame, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
During her collegiate career from 1982-85 she earned 21 NAIA All-American honors and captured fourteen NAIA national titles. She was named NAIA Swimmer of the Year in 1984 and 1985.
“For me, the greatest accomplishment wasn’t as much an individual swim. It was more about pushing women’s swimming to the forefront,” Dickemann said. “I swam on the men’s team (at Drury) because there were not that many women’s teams.”
Indeed at Drury, where she transferred after initially attending Ozarks because it allowed her to also play volleyball, Dickemann practiced with the men’s team and even competed in some men’s meets.
“It was the biggest rush in the world to be swimming on the men’s team. It was like having 30 big brothers,” Dickemann said. “It’s cool when you get to a meet and you’re the only girl and 30 guys are cheering for you. It’s kind of empowering.
“… I have three older brothers. The idea of keeping up with the guys has always been huge for me.”
It was her old coach at Drury, Brian Reynolds, who called her a few weeks ago to let her know she had been nominated for the CSCAA top 100, a list released in honor of the organization’s 100th anniversary. Dickemann believes the nomination came from Reynolds.
But it wasn’t until someone shared the list to her Facebook page when it came out on Tuesday that she found she had made the cut.
Word has spread and she’s received congratulatory messages on social media. Some students who aren’t even swimmers have heard about it. One student made up a poster and put it outside her classroom. If anyone was unware of Dickemann’s credentials, the secret seems to be out.
“If it teaches just one of them that hard work will get you where you want to go,” Dickemann said, “then it was well worth it.”