Lopes eager to get back to work following COVID-19 shutdown
By: Julie Laugel/GCU Staff
After seven months with no sanctioned practices or competition, Grand Canyon University Club Swimming entered the pool for the first time this week ready to make the necessary adjustments and get back into action.
Although disappointed that their 22 qualifying swimmers were not able to participate in the 2020 Collegiate Club Swim and Dive Nationals last April due to COVID-19, the Lopes are returning more motivated than ever to get back into swim shape and make qualifying times to get the chance to prove themselves at nationals this season.
Among the 22 qualifying swimmers from last season is sophomore and student leader Brooks Birkinbine, who qualified for nationals in four different events last season, and currently holds the program record for the men’s 200 Breaststroke.
“(The first practice) was what I expected it to be as far as social distancing,” said Birkinbine. “Just being able to be back in the water after everything was nice, and the practice wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be since it was the first day back. I loved it, and it feels good to be back.”
Lopes’ incoming freshman Kalen Russell was also eager to get back into the pool after the long break.
“It went pretty well,” said Russell. “For me, it’s the first time back in the pool since about February when I ended high school swim, but it felt good to be back. There were obviously things that were rough because it has been so long, but (Lopes’ Head Coach) Jeremy (Phung) was just trying to work on technique today – especially since it’s the first practice to get us used to being back into the pool.”
Implementing the new guidelines meant quite a few adjustments in order to get the team’s nearly 70 athletes into the pool.
“I’m used to having 30-40 swimmers in the pool at a time, so reducing the amount of people has been different,” said Phung. “We’ve been able to work with what’s been available to us, which has been really nice.”
The new practice schedule separates the team into four different groups – the men’s and women’s national teams and the men’s and women’s academy teams – in order to limit the number of athletes in the pool. The amount of practices for each group has also been reduced. In order to allow social distancing, the swim lanes have been extended to seven feet, and the athletes must swim on opposite sides of the pool.
Phung will continue these guidelines through the end of the year until the College Club Swimming (CCS) league initiates competitions again. During the first semester, the Lopes also will participate in an intrasquad scrimmage on Nov. 21 in order to get the athletes back into a competition mindset.
“They’ve gone about nine months without competing, and for a lot of them, that’s the longest time they’ve ever gone without competition,” said Phung. “It’s a bit of a mindset change to go from swimming laps and getting yardage in to performing and swimming good times and competing against the person next to you.”
Anticipating competitions will start back up again after the new year, the team plans to compete against the local club swimming programs starting up at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University to prepare for qualifying for nationals in April.
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