Virginia men look to defend ACC title
Cavaliers motivated to match women's performance this past weekend
Last weekend, Virginia coach Augie Busch showed the conference that there was no drop-off from last season’s performance, as the Virginia women’s swimming and diving team cruised to its seventh consecutive ACC championship.
This weekend, Busch will take his No. 22 Virginia men’s team back down to Greensboro, NC with the same goal in mind: winning a conference title. The Cavaliers have won the past six men’s conference championships, and 14 of the past 15 men’s conference championships, the only slip-up coming with a second place finish in 2007. Despite this string of success, the team has not taken anything for granted.
“Every meet is its own separate entity,” Busch said. “I don’t think these guys are caught up in thinking about their streak, or anything like that. We’re thinking about getting the most out of these opportunities this weekend.”
Last season, the Cavaliers placed first in the men’s ACC Championships with a score of 759.5, with in-state rival Virginia Tech finishing second with 597 points and North Carolina taking third with 549. Their 3-0 conference record foreshadowed championship-weekend success, as Virginia easily handled North Carolina, Duke and Virginia Tech in last season’s dual meets.
This season, however, the ACC appears stronger than ever. Virginia is one of five ACC schools ranked in the top 25. The others include No. 13 North Carolina, No. 17 Florida State, No. 18 Virginia Tech and No. 20 North Carolina State.
“This is the year with the most parity in the conference as long as I can remember,” senior Brad Phillips said. “We’re all right there and literally any one of us can win. It’s going to come down to who’s more focused, who perfects their race strategy and really carries it out and executes. It’s really exciting that the conference is rising to a whole other level, sending more people to NCAA’s.”
Virginia holds a 6-5 record in dual meets on the season, including a 2-3 record against ACC competition, with wins coming in its last two dual meets of the season against Duke and Pittsburgh. Virginia’s three conference losses all came in close meets against Virginia Tech, North Carolina and NC State back in late January and early February.
“I think we did not let that get us down,” Phillips said. “It was more of a wake-up call and knowing that this meet is not going to come easy. The title is not going to be given to us. We are the hunted this year, rather than the hunters. We always have the target on our backs, and other teams think that this is their year. It’s our chance to prove them wrong.”
In the women’s ACC championships, Virginia freshmen Leah Smith and Laura Simon along with sophomore Courtney Bartholomew broke several school and conference records to pace the Cavaliers to their seventh straight women’s title.
Male Cavalier swimmers are cognizant of how difficult it will be to rewrite the record books as the women did. However, the men have been on a similar training schedule as their female counterparts throughout the season. Seeing Busch’s training regimen pay enormous dividends for the women has the men chomping at the bit to compete this weekend.
“It’s always nice to have the women’s meet before us, and seeing them perform at such a high level is a huge confidence booster,” Phillips said. “Knowing that we’re in the pool every day with them doing a lot of the same type of training gives us a shot in the arm of confidence that we really need going into the meet.”
While Busch has brought his own unique coaching philosophy to the program in his first year as coach, his swimmers’ approach to the championship meet is no different than under Mark Bernardino.
“I don’t think it’s been different than in previous years with the new coaching staff,” Phillips said. “We still have the same goals, same mentality, and the same attitude. There’s just someone different at the helm this year. The feeling of the team has not changed.”
Busch certainly enjoyed the thrill of winning his first ACC championship last weekend, but he is especially looking forward to competing with the men throughout this week. He spent eight seasons working with the men and competing at Pac-12 championships during his tenure at Arizona, collecting many fond memories from his success.
“For me personally, I spent years on the pool deck at men’s swimming championships, so I’m really excited about that,” Busch said. “I remember vividly those meets at Arizona, just how unique that feel was with a great group of men. I’m really excited for it. I think the whole coaching staff is ready to go for this.”
The Cavaliers are confident that this season’s training will pay off this weekend. Rather than focus on winning the championship, though, Busch feels he will get the most out of his swimmers by focusing on everyone swimming to the best of his ability. From there, the results will come.
“That’s what we’re all about — be the best we’ve ever been,” Busch said. “If we do that, then we’ll have a really good shot.”
The ACC events begin Feb. 26 and end March 1.