The Wheaton athletic department announced on March 3 that Jacob and Meghan Ayers will take over as head coaches of the men’s and women’s swim teams, respectively, when current head coach Jon Lederhouse retires at the end of the year. The announcement preceded NCAA Division III Nationals in Shenandoah, Texas, on March 18; the meet’s three All-American performances — two for senior Erin Bagley and one for the women’s 400-free relay — capped off not only a successful season for both teams, but also Lederhouse’s 41-year career as head coach.
As Lederhouse closes out his time at Wheaton, he is happy to be leaving the program in the hands of the Ayers’.
“I was very pleased,” Lederhouse said of the decision. “I feel very happy about the situation. Happy to let go.”
Athletic director Julie Davis went through the search process with a committee from the college and with some guidance early on from Lederhouse, who recommended eight candidates and then stepped back to let the committee do its work.
“I am thrilled to have Jacob and Meghan both joining our staff as head coaches,” Davis said. “I am excited to see them work together as a husband and wife team and continue not only the competitive success of the swim program, but also the meaningful team culture that has been so much a part of that program.”
Neither Ayers is new to Wheaton: Meghan came to the college as an assistant coach for the team in 2013, after competing as a Division I varsity swimmer at both the College of Charleston and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to 2013, she coached for the Wheaton Swim Club, where Jacob also currently serves as a coach. Jacob has been the head coach of the combined Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South co-op swim team since 2000 and graduated from Wheaton in 1997 with one team, five relay and five individual CCIW championships.
Both Ayerses have been influenced by the coaching philosophy of their predecessor, Jon Lederhouse, with Meghan serving as his assistant coach for four years and Jacob swimming for him as a Wheaton athlete from 1992-1997.
“Coach Lederhouse has created a strong program here at Wheaton,” Meghan said. “I feel a deep responsibility to the college, the current members of the team and our future swimmers to honor the legacy of Coach Lederhouse and continue to build a strong swimming program rooted in Christ.”
In his four decades of coaching at the Chrouser Natatorium — soon to be renamed after him — Lederhouse’s teams have accrued a bevy of conference titles and All-American honors. The Thunder swim teams have established a certain way of doing things in Lederhouse’s long tenure with the program. While changes are certainly in store with the husband-wife duo taking over operations from a single head coach, neither Jacob nor Meghan see a need to alter the rhythms and traditions which have brought the team so much success in the past.
“Not much will change as far as day to day operations,” Jacob said. “Meghan and I both believe it is important for the men’s and women’s teams to train together, compete together, socialize together, and worship together. The biggest difference will be that now there are two head coaches with their eyes on the team. In our minds, we will both be working toward helping members of both squads be the best they can be.”
The end of the “Lederhouse era” and the beginning of the Ayers phase is an event which has particular significance to Bagley, who was able to share what she calls the “senior experience” with Lederhouse as both of their collegiate careers came to a close.
“As a whole, I know the weekend was bittersweet for Coach,” Bagley said of nationals. “It definitely was for me, but all good things must come to an end, and this was an amazing way to end a great career.”
Bagley is encouraged by the selection of the Ayerses as the new leaders of the program. She has known both since she was nine years old. Jacob was one of her first club coaches, and Meghan has served as both coach and mentor throughout Bagley’s entire Wheaton career.
“With Jacob and Meghan at the helm, I am so excited to see where the team will go next year,” Bagley said. “ both understand our team culture and honor the overarching goal of glorifying God through our enjoyment of swimming. They have both worked with Coachie for so long that we know they will carry on his legacy well, but we are also so excited to see them bring new perspectives and ideas to our program.”
Lederhouse is as eager as anyone else to see those new ideas put into practice.
“Hopefully they will bring changes to the program, changes that will make it better,” he said. “We don’t want to do things just the same way it’s always been done, because that doesn’t necessarily develop and provide growth experiences.”
In short, the Ayers vision for the team is one of continued excellence, both in swimming and in life beyond. Both Meghan and Jacob have experienced the unique culture of Wheaton swimming and hope to preserve that in this new era for the program.
“My hope is that the current team and future Wheaton athletes continue to find the program to be a safe and supportive place where they can grow in their faith, excel in their sport, and make lifelong friendships as I did,” Jacob said. “ the team instantly became my family and I still remain close with my teammates from that era. I have been so glad to see that over the years that has not changed.”