Coaches & Directors

Alligator Coaches

Alligator Aquatics is committed to providing our swimmers with exceptional coaching. In order to achieve this standard, our entire staff is ASCA certified. In addition to multiple years of coaching and swimming experience, they continually attend Swimming Technique and Coaching Clinics around the United States. 

Contact: Please direct all emails to Mary Ruffin for questions regarding all swim groups.


Coaching Staff

Mary S Ruffin

Head Coach/CEO, Lead Blue and X-Treme


Mary Ruffin is the Head Coach and CEO of the Alligators Aquatics. She is an ASCA Level 5 coach. She has been coaching for 36 years - 20 years with the Alligators! She has had the privilege of coaching multiple athletes to State, National and Olympic Trial level. The majority of the High School swimmers have continued their swimming career in college and return in the summers to train with the Alligators.

Mary has volunteered her time as part of many committees and task forces on Illinois Swimming.  She is currently a member of USA Swimming Zone Board of Review, Senior Committee and the Performance Task force. She is also on the exec. board of ISCA.

  • Mary was a High School State Champion, All-American, and Olympic Trial Qualifier during her own swimming career. Her love of the sport that she developed while swimming, is carried with her now as a coach.
  • Strength of character, integrity and a strong work ethic, are some of the qualities she hopes to instill in all her swimmers.
  • Her love the sport is only surpassed by her love for her family. She has been Married to Stuart Sr. for 28 years and is the extremely proud Mom of 4: Samantha, Stuart, Rebecca and Jeffrey.

Mary’s Favorites

Food: Chicken and Leg of Lamb
Pastime: Cooking, Kayaking and obviously Coaching!
Movie: Donovan’s Reef / Pretty Woman / Affair to Remember
Quote: "Walk the Walk, Don’t Talk the Talk" & "What I’m to be, I’m now becoming"

Alexander Hayden

Associate Head Coach


Alec swam through his age group years at NASA in Evanston. He continued his swimming career in college at Northwestern where he was a 4 year varsity swimmer and 2 year team captain.

Alec has over ten years experience coaching at the NCAA Division 1 and club level. He comes to Alligator Aquatics from Northwestern University after spending 4 years at Illinois and one year at the College of William and Mary. During his career, he has helped swimmers break 1 national age group record and 8 Illinois state records, as well as over 60 school records at the collegiate level.

Away from the pool, Alec loves to read and play volleyball. Alec and his wife, Laura, welcomed their first child, Nolan, on 7/20/18.

Stacy L Cassiday

Lead Senior Coach


Stacy has been swimming all her life, her accomplishments are many. She is a  7 time Illinois State Champion (3 state records) 1981-1985 for Evanston Township High School.   3 time NCAA team champions at the University of Texas (highest individual place was 2nd in the 500 free).  14 time Collegiate All-American,  2 time Olympic Trial participant and  6 time National team member.

In between all her swimming accomplishments in the pool she also has an MA in Counseling Psychology and an MA in School Administration. She is currently working a Jr. High School Counselor for Dist. 15. 

Stacy lives in Arlington Hts., with her 2 boys: Ryan 17 and Alex 15 who both swim. 

In her down-time which is limited she still finds time to swim and spend as much time as she can with all her family members who live in the area.   

Tom Blumenfeld

Assistant Coach


Tom Blumenfeld swam as an age group swimmer from the age of 6 for Leaning Tower & High Ridge YMCA, as well as a USS Team in Skokie.  He swam on the Varsity team for 4 years in High School and was team captain his senior year.  He continued to swim in college as a long distance and butterflier at Northern Illinois University. Tom currently swims with the Alligator Aquatics master’s program and competes in local triathlons.

Tom also volunteers his time as our Treasurer. He is responsible for keeping the clubs financial records, and making sure the financial needs of the club are met. Swimming, coaching and volunteering his time for the Alligators comes alongside his being a CPA with Pawlan, Blumenfeld, Miscinski & Associates in Skokie  Tom has been a resident of Arlington Heights for 15 years with his wife Debbie and their 2 children Shannon and Leah!

Tom is starting his 5th year with the Alligators.

ASCA level 2

Tom's Favorites

Food: Steak (NY Strip, Rib-Eye or Filet or Skirt) sweet or white potatoes and "fresh" green beans.

Pastime: COACHING SWIMMING or triathlon and cooking breakfast foods.

Quote: "Tomorrow is promised to no one" -  Walter Payton       

Jennifer Suyon Zapler

Assistant Coach


Jenny’s love of swimming began at the local park district swim team in her hometown of Carol Stream.  At age 11, she moved on to swim for B.R.Ryall YMCA. There, she swam for eight years. Jenny continued to swim in college at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She swam all of the freestyle distances. Upon graduating from UIC, Jenny started coaching swimming at all levels: High School, USA Swimming and Masters.    Jenny has a Masters degree in secondary education, and is currently an instructional assistant at Westbrook Elementary School in Mt Prospect.  She works with teachers in Literacy Support Service, helping kindergartners and first graders enhance their reading skills.  Jenny is married to a high school teacher and girls’ track and field coach, Danny, and has two kids Dahlia (current Alligator) and Zane (retired Alligator).  When Jenny is not working at school or on the pool deck, she loves to read, spend time with family indoors or outdoors, working out and loves to cook and eat food.  

Olivia Ruth Hepko

Assistant Coach


Olivia Hepko began swimming when she was 7 years old for the park district. Her enthusiasm and love for the sport created a natural transition for her to swim on Alligators full-time. After being an athlete, teammate, and an Alligators lesson instructor for many years, the team gave Olivia a profound sense of purpose, patience, discipline, and community that, as an assistant coach, she desires to pass on to other swimmers. She believes in being a well-rounded athlete and individual is the key to success in the pool and, ultimately, carries on into life. As an assistant coach, Olivia wants to give back to the team over the next couple of years and pursue future endeavors in coaching and teaching, as she completes her undergraduate degree at Harper College before transferring out to Ball State University. Olivia loves healthy cooking and country music and in her free time, being active outdoors, running, cycling, CrossFit, weightlifting, surrounding herself with friends and family, traveling/road tripping.

Quote: "It all begins and ends in your mind. What you give power to has power over you."  -Leon Brown

Board of Directors

Mary S Ruffin



Dennis Verdico

Vice President


Tom Blumenfeld



Andy Topps



John A Andrew



Abbie Papanicholas