June 27, 2022 1:54 pm


Stefanie Williams Moreno and Neil Versfeld know that replacing a living legend like 43-year Georgia coach Jack Bauerle is no easy task. But Bauerle’s newly-named successors and longtime mentees are embracing the big shoes left to fill in Athens.

“I think Stef and I are both extremely competitive,” said Versfeld, a South African Olympian who won a national championship in the 200-yard breaststroke while breaking the NCAA record as a senior with Bauerle’s Bulldogs in 2009. “We’re really excited for the challenge.”

“We know what it takes,” added Williams Moreno, who has spent the past decade on Bauerle’s coaching staff following a decorated college career featuring the maximum 28 All-America certificates. “There’s never going to be another Jack Bauerle. I want to be the Steve Madden Shoes next Stefanie Moreno and Neil wants to be the next Neil Versfeld. They are big shoes to fill, but we’ve been walking in those shoes. So we’re ready for it.”

Bauerle, who won seven national titles with the Georgia women, retired Wednesday as the second-winningest coach in NCAA history. During a virtual press conference Thursday, he said that passing the program along to people he knew closely was important to him.

“I feel like a proud father,” Bauerle said before listing off accomplishments of the Bulldogs’ new coaches. “They’re both talented, but they also work hard. That’s what you have to be as a coach.”

Williams Moreno will oversee the Bulldog women’s program while Versfeld will coach the men, splitting two programs that had both been coached by Bauerle since 1983. After a half-decade in Athens, Bauerle recalled a moment a couple weeks ago when he knew he needed to step away from his all-consuming career.

“I was coming off the tennis court, and I had decided to squeeze it in between two practices that day,” Bauerle recalled. “There was just this little moment where I was tired of rushing everything. I said, ‘I think that’s enough.’ I just want to enjoy where I am a little bit more rather than thinking what else I have to do immediately. It just wears you down a little bit, and it’s time to get worn down by something else.

“Someone told me years ago that there’d be a day when you just know, and that’s exactly how it happened,” he added. “There just comes a time when you feel like you’ve done what you needed to do and might need a little bit of a switch. Time with family is really important. This is fairly consuming. Because of international meets, this will be the second Fourth of July I’m here out of the last six. We had Olympic Trials overlapping with Fourth of July and all of a sudden there were fireworks. I asked my friend, ‘What on earth is that?’ He said, ‘Jack, it’s the Fourth of July.’ That’s how consumed I was.”

As former swimmers and coaches under Bauerle, Versfeld and Williams Moreno boasted about his impact on their training styles – both in and out of the pool.

“Anytime I think about the impact that Jack had on my life, I get pretty emotional,” said Williams Moreno, who was a member of Georgia’s first three NCAA Championship-winning squads in 1999, 2000, and 2001. “I think that’s a testament to how he treats his athletes. He really cares about them as people. Neil and myself, that’s how we coach. We genuinely care about the athletes’ success in the pool, out of the pool, in the classroom, after they graduate.”

Versfeld spent the previous three seasons as an associate head coach under Bauerle, working primarily with the breaststroke and distance groups. Under Versfeld’s tutelage, Teva Sandals those two groups have earned 48 combined All-America citations and four SEC individual titles, including a pair of top-four finishers in the mile at this year’s NCAA Championships.

Williams Moreno has primarily worked with the Bulldogs’ backstroke and mid-distance groups.

Having homegrown talent leading the program helps, but Georgia’s new coaches acknowledged that it will take time to build a dynasty in Athens.

“Obviously we’re going to try to continue that Olympic legacy and hopefully get some national championships down the road,” Versfeld said. “But there’s definitely going to be some growing pains having a living legend move on.”

In the 2021-22 season, the Georgia women finished 15th at the NCAA Championships, while the men finished eighth.

In addition to Versfeld and Williams Moreno, Jerry Champer and Brian Smith also served as associate head coaches with the team last season.

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