Michael Sabala was elevated to associate head coach of women’s swimming in September 2013 after serving as the assistant coach since July 2010. Prior to his full-time appointment in 2010, Sabala served as a volunteer coach during the 2006-07 and 2008-09 seasons.
"Our partnership and collaboration have served the program very well,” said head coach Diana Caskey. “Michael is a true and amazing student of the sport. He is always on alert for ideas and innovations to make our women better in the pool, better in the classroom and better in preparation for their future endeavors beyond Columbia. He helps everyone believe in and set lofty goals, all the while sculpting the plan and path to achieving them."
Under the direction of Sabala, and head coach Diana Caskey, the 2012-13 season was one of the most successful for Columbia women’s swimming. In postseason competition, the Lions finished third at the Ivy League Championships, scoring more points at a conference championship than ever before, and captured 21st at the NCAA Championships. The highlight of the dual season came when Columbia topped Princeton for the second consecutive season. At the AT&T Winter Nationals in Austin, Texas, Sabala led Columbia to a sixth-place finish. The Lions finished the season ranked sixth in the final Mid-Major poll, the top mark in program history.
On an individual level, the Lions also excelled. At the Ivy League Championships, Columbia women posted program-best times in 48 out of 51 events. The 2012-13 squad set school records in 10 events and four Ivy League records. Leading the charge for Columbia were 2013 NCAA qualifiers Katie Meili ’13CC and Alena Kluge ’14CC. Meili, a 2013 Maniatty Award winner as the Most Outstanding Senior Female Student-Athlete, posted stellar finishes at the NCAA Championships, highlighted by a third-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke. In continuing her exceptional performance, Meili took seventh in the 200 IM and ninth in the 200 breast. Under the guidance of Caskey and Sabala, Meili set new personal best times in every event in each discipline, en route to capturing her second consecutive Swimmer of the Meet honor at the Ivy League Championship. She finished her career with four Ivy League records, three first team All-America and two second team All-America awards.
On the national and international levels, Meili has performed well and is among the fastest Americans in the 50 and 100-meter breaststroke events. She has recorded the eighth fastest time ever by an American woman in the 100-yard breast. At the 2013 World Championship Trials and National Championship she claimed seventh in the 50-meter breast and also claimed fourth in the 100 breast at the U.S. Open.
Kluge had a stellar junior campaign, winning the 400 IM at the Ivy League Championships, while also setting school records in the 100 and 200-yard backstroke. Kluge and Meili teamed with Kristina Parsons ’13CC and Selena Huang ’15CC to win the 400 medley relay at the conference championship, setting a new program and Ivy League record by four seconds in the process.
The 2011-12 Lions made history in February when they toppled Princeton at Denunzio Pool for the first time in the 28-year history of Columbia women’s swimming. Meili had a breakout year in the pool, becoming the first woman in Ivy League history to break 1:00 in the 100 breast. After winning that event at the Ivy League Championships and earning her first Swimmer of the Meet honor, she went on to take fifth at the NCAA Championships.
In his first season as the Lions assistant coach, Sabala helped lead the Lions to a third-place showing at the Ivy League Championships. Columbia completed the season with a 5-4 overall mark, with an individual achieving a personal best time in each meet of the season. Meili would secure her first Ivy League title in the 200 IM. In addition to his work at Columbia, Sabala served as a coach for athletes competing at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, USA Swimming Nationals and USA Swimming Junior National qualifying standards.
In 2009-10, Sabala worked at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club (NBAC), where Michael Phelps’s coach Bob Bowman named him a lead coach. In February 2010, NBAC won the USA Swimming Club Excellence Championship, an award given to the highest performing swim club in America. Prior to his stint at NBAC, Sabala spent a year as the Director of Competitive Swimming and head varsity coach at The Berkeley Carroll School in New York City. In 2008, Sabala also worked as a coach counselor at the Auburn Tigers Swim and the Stanford University Swim camps. Since August 2012, Sabala has been the Lead Coach for the Performance Club of the Columbia Varsity Swim School.
A four-year varsity letter winner at Harvard, Sabala was a member of the men’s swimming & diving squad that won three Ivy League Team Championships and three E.I.S.L Team Championships. Sabala, a native of Long Island, graduated with honors from Harvard in 2002 with a degree in social anthropology.