Swimming dives into first meet of the year against Pitt
Cavaliers look to continue ACC dominance in pool
After a long offseason, the Virginia swimming and diving teams return to action this Friday against Pittsburgh.
The Cavaliers, led by coach Augie Busch, will aim to build on their program’s success last year with an even stronger season this year.
“The freshmen are doing great,” Busch said. “The first year men’s class has a lot of expectations. I think their size and overall talent lets them take more of a nucleus role than your typical freshmen class. It’s a really young team — 19 of our 25 male swimmers are first or second years, which is the youngest team I’ve ever coached. At our recent inter-squad meet they won several races.”
Improvement on the men’s side is an extremely welcome addition. Since Busch took over in 2013, the women’s team has consistently outperformed the men’s team, which has not won an ACC title since 2013, after winning it consecutively the six prior seasons. The addition of so many young faces, however, spells hope for the Cavaliers.
“We are a lot better this year,” senior swimmer Matt Lockman said. “The last few years we’ve had rough seasons, but this year I definitely think we’re back at the top of the ACC. I think we can qualify the most number of people for NCAAs since I’ve been here.”
Additions such as freshman swimmer Ryan Baker of Arlington, Va., who won the NCSA Junior National Championship in the 100-meter backstroke and freshman diver Bryce Shelton of Vienna, Va., who won the 2015 AAU National Three Meter Diving Championships, should greatly aid the team.
As has become customary, the women’s team expects to have another dominant season in the ACC. Starting with the 2006-7 season, the Cavalier women’s team has won the ACC title nine years in a row, including last year.
“Last weekend we had our inter-squad meet and we swam really well,” senior swimmer Kaitlyn Jones said. “We hit times we weren’t hitting until the spring last year. To be able to hit some of those mid-season times so early on gives us a lot of confidence.”
Luckily for the women’s team, confidence is not hard to come by. Led by senior swimmer Leah Smith, who won a gold medal competing for the United States National Team in the 2016 Rio Olympics this past summer, the women’s team returns immensely talented swimmers in both the junior and senior classes. Even with the addition of new members on both the men’s and women’s teams, the swimmers are confident in their team chemistry.
“We have such a great team dynamic,” Jones said. “Both teams went on a retreat a few weekends ago, which really helped with team bonding and getting to know each other.”
Team chemistry will only help the Cavaliers in their matchup this weekend against Pitt.
The Panthers enter Friday’s meet after strong performances by both their men’s and women’s teams at a meet in Chestnut Hill, Mass. There, the Pitt women defeated both Boston College and Georgia Tech, while the men defeated Boston College and lost to Georgia Tech.
Pitt’s new coach, John Hargis, praised the freshman women and the team as a whole after their strong season opener.
“The women were what we thought they would be, but the men need to improve," Hargis said. “We’re working on instilling confidence in the team to help them reach their potential. I was really pleased with how our freshmen women performed. They were really strong and helped us in some crucial events. On the men's side, Samy Helmbacher stood out as a freshman with lots of talent who could be a major factor for us this season and beyond.”
As far as preparation for the meet goes, the Cavaliers aren’t doing anything too out of the ordinary.
“Leading up to this meet, we’ve been incorporating a lot more race-type exercises into practice to prepare us for when we get on the blocks during the competition,” Jones said.
The men’s team echoed similar strategies for preparing for Friday.
“We only take it easy the day before a meet, to brush up on some more technical things and apply them to races,” Lockman said. “Before that day we work just as hard as usual.”
The Cavaliers will look to use this first meet to kick start what looks be a very successful year for Virginia swimming.
The meet will begin this Friday at 4 p.m. at the Aquatics and Fitness Center in Charlottesville.