Replacing a legend

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Last updated: 06/27/2012 4:12 AM

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Synchronized Swimming
Holly Vargo-Brown: Replacing A Legend

By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There are a handful of legendary coaches at Ohio State who are recognized simply by one name—Woody, Earle, Urban—but not many who are known by three.

For 17 years, Linda Lichter-Witter was a one woman dynasty. Certainly it was the student-athletes who carried Ohio State to 11 U.S. Collegiate national titles and two U.S. Senior national championships, but it Lichter-Witter who turned the OSU women’s synchronized swimming team into a national powerhouse, picking up where Mary Jo Ruggieri had left off.

Now it will be up to Holly Vargo-Brown to continue the legacy left by Ruggieri and Lichter-Witter, who retired to spend more time with her family last month.

“I have such great respect for the strong tradition of excellence established within this program by former head coaches Mary Jo Ruggieri and Linda Lichter-Witter,” Vargo-Brown said Tuesday.

“I am honored to accept the responsibility of leading the next generation of Buckeye synchronized swimmers and remain incredibly grateful for the opportunity Gene Smith and the Ohio State Athletics Department have provided me.”

Synchronized swimming did not become an official NCAA sport until 1997—one year after Lichter-Witter took over the program, but Ohio State has had a synchronized swimming tradition since the 1920s.

Vargo-Brown, a former Ohio State assistant and associate head coach, will be just the third head coach in the program’s 36-year history. She was a letter-winner with the Buckeyes from 1981-84, and earned All-American honors under Ruggieri in 1984.

A four-time Ohio State Scholar-Athlete, she was the recipient of the Melvin and Irving Schottenstein Post-Graduate Award, which was first designed specifically to recognize and promote women’s achievements in intercollegiate athletics at The Ohio State University.

“It’s an exciting day for Ohio State synchronized swimming,” said TJ Shelton, associate athletics director for sports administration.  

“As a former student-athlete with 25 years of experience serving as assistant, associate and interim head coach for the Buckeyes throughout that time span, Holly is extremely prepared to take on the leadership role. Her passion for the sport of synchronized swimming, dedication to Buckeye nation and commitment to the overall development of student-athletes make her the perfect choice to lead our program.”

It was back in 2004 Vargo-Brown got her first taste of leading the Buckeyes in a head-coaching role. She served as the Ohio State interim head coach while Lichter-Witter was assisting the U.S. Olympic Team in Athens, Greece.

During that campaign, Vargo-Brown led the Buckeyes to their fifth-consecutive U.S. Collegiate national title, and was later named United States Synchronized Swimming Coach of the Year.

That was an honor Lichter-Witter held eight times during her career at Ohio State.

A Toledo native and product of Morrison R. Waite High School, Vargo-Brown also led Ohio State to a runner-up finish at nationals in 2005, when Lichter-Witter was on medical leave. 

She began her coaching career at Ohio State as an assistant coach in 1986 and after a brief hiatus following the 1990 season, she returned as assistant coach in 1993. During her tenure with the Buckeyes, Vargo-Brown has helped coach 19 U.S. Collegiate National championship teams as well as two U.S. Senior National championship squads

The 2012 U.S. Synchronized Swimming Collegiate Contributor of the Year, Vargo-Brown has played a pivotal role in the growth of the sport collegiately, nationally and internationally. As a swimmer, she earned a spot on the 1985 U.S. National Team II squad. Vargo-Brown’s coaching stints include leading U.S. Olympic Festival Teams in 1987 and 1988. She also was the assistant coach to the Venezuelan National Team at the 1987 Pan-American Games. 

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