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Synchronized swimming: Coach Vargo-Brown making history at Ohio State

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Synchronized swimming coach Holly Vargo-Brown embraces her team following the Buckeyes’ 30th national championship victory. Credit: Courtesy of OSU Athletics

For Ohio State synchronized swimming coach Holly Vargo-Brown, her Buckeye roots were planted over 30 years ago as a student-athlete.

Vargo-Brown started at OSU in 1981 as a physical education major. She was a four-year synchronized swimming letterman, as well as a part of the Buckeyes’ 1982 and 1983 national championship teams, before graduating in 1984.

In 1993, she joined the program as an assistant coach and has since worked her way up to the top as head coach of the Buckeyes.

“I think how it happened was I was done swimming and I wasn’t quite done with the sport and the opportunity opened in the department for me to kind of step in a coaching role,” Vargo-Brown said. “I don’t think my intention at that time was any kind of thing of visions of grandeur, I just loved the sport. I loved the school, and that was my primary focus.”

Fast forward to 2017 and she continues to add to her legacy, in particular in the past five seasons at the helm.

“To know that I am sitting here doing something to and for the school I love — that’s the coolest thing ever,” she said.

Last week, her team took home its second title in three years, thanks to its leader and an abundance of talented athletes, including senior Emma Baranski who won her second-consecutive solo national title, making her the fourth OSU synchronized swimmer in Buckeye history to do so.

Baranski has evolved into not only an amazing swimmer but an influential leader, adding a unique sense of elegance to the team, Vargo-Brown said.

“There is something magical about what she is able to do in the water, but it doesn’t just end with her skill,” she said. “It’s this extra essence of just being a good person that just shows in her performances and the way she treats other people so to coach her has just been a really great pleasure.”

Just as Vargo-Brown admires Baranski, that respect is reciprocated, Baranski said.

Holly and I have been through many ups and downs during my four years at Ohio State,” she said. “She has always lead me in the right direction and continues to inspire me to be the best person I can be in and outside of the pool. I hope to live a life as full and successful as Holly.”

This year’s victory is the 30th national title for the Buckeyes, the most of any OSU sport. What made the win that much sweeter was having the competition at McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion, Vargo-Brown said.

“I am so incredibly proud to be a Buckeye, because we had that entire half of the bleachers, filled with scarlet and gray,” she said. “There was one moment when I looked up and one of the routines was getting ready to walk out for their performance and the entire side of the pool was all standing there with ‘O’s up in there, and I started to get emotional.”

Vargo-Brown’s passion and love for OSU has been key in her success and great accomplishments in the sport of synchronized swimming.

“Thirty is special no matter when it happens,” she said. “But number 30 at home was like a storybook. We have been writing this story the whole season, and we talked about this final page was theirs to finish the book, so to just have it play out in that way just a really nice ending to the story.”

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