TOBIN: Stellar strokes
In the spring of 2015, the Virginia men’s swimming and diving teams were not in a good place. After Virginia finished eighth in the ACC Championship meet — the teams’ worst finish in program history — former Cavalier Daily columnist Matt Comey wrote that the Cavaliers were “in for a long stretch of mediocre recruiting and even worse team development.”
Yet after toppling both Duke and North Carolina this past weekend, the Virginia men’s swimming and diving teams certainly do not look underdeveloped. With a 5-1 record, the Cavalier men are undefeated in the ACC and are No. 13 in the country.
The Virginia men’s swimming and diving teams of old were dynastic. From 1998 to 2013, the Cavaliers captured ACC titles in all but two seasons and won six straight meets heading into 2013.
This success came screeching to a halt in the summer of 2013. After coaching Virginia for 35 years, former coach Mark Bernadino shocked the Cavalier faithful by suddenly retiring. Current Virginia coach Augie Busch had a tough task succeeding such a beloved figure, and several suspensions due to hazing-related incidents did not make things easier for him.
Last season, the Cavaliers improved sightly with a sixth place finish at the ACCs. Yet, the men could not hold a candle to their female counterparts, as the women Cavaliers captured their ninth consecutive ACC title. Additionally, whereas the Cavalier women sent 12 representatives to the NCAA championships — tying a program-best fifth-place finish — the men only sent two people to compete.
This season, the Cavalier men have looked determined to get out of their funk. The seniors have played a crucial role in reversing the tide, ensuring they can see their team have some success before they graduate. This past weekend, senior swimmers Matt Lockman and Austin Quinn placed first in the men’s 50 free and 200 IM, respectively.
Yet, the old guard isn’t solely responsible for this return to prominence. The Cavalier men boast one of the best recruiting classes they’ve had in years. Freshman swimmer Ted Schubert — a former three-time Virginia state champion (twice in the 100 back and once in the 200 IM) — won the 100 and 200 butterfly this past weekend.
Additionally, freshman diver Bryce Shelton — the 2015 AAU National Champion on 3-meter — continued his fantastic season by taking second on the 1- and 3-meter this past weekend. Earning ACC Diver of the Week honors earlier this season, Shelton is reminiscent of one of Virginia’s best and most consistent divers in recent memory — JB Kolod.
Virginia’s successes speak for themselves this season. They crushed Pitt to start the season, destroyed Penn State, beat both Virginia Tech and North Carolina for the first time since 2013, and took care of business against Duke. The team’s only loss came at the hands of Michigan – who currently rank No. 9 in the nation.
The road ahead certainly will not be easy for the Cavaliers. Next week, they travel down to Raleigh, N.C. to face No. 3 NC State for the last meet of the regular season. Then, at the beginning of March, the team will travel to Atlanta, Ga. to compete against four other teams ranked inside the NSCAA Top 25 at the ACC Championships. In order to come even close to capturing another title, the Cavaliers will have to put forth everything they have.
Regardless of how the rest of the season goes, Virginia certainly has a lot to look forward to. The team is only graduating four seniors and has plenty of young talent that will improve in the years to come.
Fortunately, this “long stretch” of disparity that Comey prophesied has come to an end this season. With stellar strokes, the Virginia men’s swimming and diving team has finally returned to prominence.
Ben Tobin is an Assistant Managing Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @TobinBen.