Cavalier men look to finish season strong at NCAA Championships

Eight Virginia swimmers, four alternates travel to Austin; lone diver Kolod to compete in all three events

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The Virginia men’s swim and dive team has experienced its share of ups and downs throughout the season, with the No. 22 Cavaliers dominating dual meets they were supposed to win, but struggling in sealing victories and losing close meets against the likes of ACC rivals North Carolina and North Carolina State. This weekend, Virginia will seek to make good on past difficulties with a strong showing at the NCAA Championships in Austin, Tex.

While this is the first time coach Augie Busch will lead the Virginia men at the NCAA meet, the stress of the national championships is not new to him. Because Busch made several trips to the meet as an assistant at swimming powerhouse Arizona, he understands the pressure the meet can put on swimmers, and has developed a very simple goal for his team.

“Just showing well,” Busch said. “Going in and giving their best effort. Not letting fear or fright of the stage get in the way of anything. … Just racing hard is really the only thing I care about.”

The Cavaliers qualified eight swimmers to compete in individual events, and will bring four alternates for relay events. Virginia’s swimmers will combine to compete in 10 different individual events and four of the five relay events.

Virginia brings an experienced group to compete, with five of the eight swimmers having competed in the NCAA meet previously. Two swimmers — senior Jan Daniec and sophomore Luke Papendick — have earned All-American honors during their tenure.

Only senior Nathan Hart, junior Kyle Dudzinski and sophomore Yannick Kaeser will be competing at the meet for the first time — though even these swimmers have valuable experience competing at the highest level. All three have competed at the ACC championships, while Kaeser swam in the 2012 Olympics for Switzerland.

Busch believes this maturity will be invaluable for the Cavaliers as they head into the national spotlight this weekend.

“It’s always been a very upperclassman dominated team, and most of them have seen this stage before,” Busch said. “I’d like to think they’re going in with higher goals than they’ve had in the past. … It’s great having that senior leadership and experience at a meet like this.”

The team is looking to rebound from last season’s NCAA meet, where they placed 27th — its worst finish since 1991, and the first time since 1998 the program placed lower than 17th. Though six different Cavaliers earned honorable-mention All-American accolades, the team gathered a mere 22 points. Michigan was crowned national champions after scoring 480 points.

“After last year, everybody kind of had a bad taste in their mouth coming off of NCAAs,” Papendick said. “I think that’s definitely been a focus this whole year, to perform better at NCAAs. We’re looking forward to it.”

Virginia placed fourth at the ACC meet four weeks ago, ending its run of six consecutive ACC men’s championships. However, the team took away several positives — with Kaeser placing second in the 100 and 200-yard breaststroke and the 200-yard medley relay team setting the school record.

The team’s backstroke showing was especially strong, with Dudzinski also breaking junior Jack Murfee’s school record in the 100-yard backstroke, and Papendick breaking his own school record in the 200-yard backstroke.

“I think the backstroke group training that we have here is really deep,” Papendick said. “We definitely push each other in practice everyday and all three of us have been able to swim really well this year in the backstroke. That’s definitely a strength for us.”

Standout junior JB Kolod will be Virginia’s lone representative in the diving events. After winning the 3-meter diving event at the NCAA Zone A Championships two weeks ago, Kolod qualified to compete in all three diving events at the NCAA Championships — the one-meter, three-meter and platform events.

Kolod — who earned honorable mention All-American honors last season in the three-meter event — has set the Virginia school record on both the one and three-meter diving events this season. He also holds the program’s second highest score in the platform event.

“It’s just fun to watch him compete,” Busch said. “JB is just somebody who loves to compete. He’s a perfectionist. He’s always thinking about what it takes to get better. He’s a ferocious competitor.”

Since the conclusion of the ACC Championships, Virginia has hit its taper, swimming less yardage while also cutting down on dry-land workouts.

The Virginia women, who were on a similar practice schedule, saw their rest pay dividends last weekend when they placed 11th at the NCAA Women’s Championships. Papendick said the team hopes the women’s results are indicative of their times to come this weekend.

“I think to see the women swim well is a confidence boost,” he said. “I think that bodes well for us, and we’re all pretty excited.”

The meet will begin Thursday and conclude Saturday. Preliminary qualifying events will be held in the mornings, and finals will be held in the afternoons.


Published March 27, 2014 in Sports





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