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GCU Club Swimming: 2020-21 Season Recap

GCU Club Swimming team banquet photo
June 24, 2021

Lopes break 36 GCU records, place 2nd at nationals

By: Julie Laugel/GCU Club Sports Writing Staff

Stepping up. Opening up. Runner-up.

In the 2020-21 season, the Grand Canyon University Club Swimming team defied all odds following the COVID shutdown, breaking 36 program records throughout their four meets and finishing second at the first-ever virtual College Club Swimming National Championships.

After months of restricted practices, the Lopes eased back into competition with an intrasquad scrimmage, breaking 15 GCU records in their first event back.

“Being able to compete was like a breath of fresh air,” said Lopes’ junior Brandon Persky. “Even if it was against our own team, it didn’t really matter. It was nice getting out there and seeing where we were as far as times.”

Later in the season, the Lopes also hosted the Golden State Athletic Conference Championships and the Canyon Classic, beating teams such as Ottawa University, Arizona Christian University and The Masters University.

“It had been a year since I competed, so I forgot how it felt,” said Lopes’ freshman Emily Sainz. “Having opponents that weren’t my teammates gave me motivation. Just being around the team and having fun was a good experience after a year.”

“A lot of the athletes were shocked, because they were swimming really fast for not having swam for a long time and only doing a minimal amount of training,” added Lopes’ Head Coach Jeremy Phung. “I think COVID really helped a lot of people rest and take a break to focus on their physical and mental health.”

While many athletes were seeing improvements in their swimming, the hardships that the year brought – on top of the other demands of being a student-athlete – caused struggles with mental health. After noticing this trend, the Lopes came together to share their problems and experiences and get support from teammates.

“It was nice to see that there are other people struggling through the same things and we’re not alone,” said Sainz. “Hearing everyone open up allowed me to see past just having a teammate, and I made a lot of friends after that day that I didn’t normally talk to.”

“We’d been practicing a lot and had gotten to know each other, but the mental health day was a big turning point for us to really become a family,” added Phung. “It helped the players know they can rely on each other and that it’s a safe place to open up and be vulnerable.”

The new team chemistry supported the Lopes through their preparation for nationals

“Becoming a family helped us understand each other and encourage each other to be better and perform better,” said Phung. “They understood the weight of getting up on that block and competing and what it meant to that person, so they were able to get behind them and really cheer them on and be encouraging.”

With nationals being held virtually, all 40 athletes were able to participate in the two-day event. GCU had 27 swimmers add to their final combined score, including Persky, who placed first in two events and led the team with 88 points, and Megan Wilkins, who placed first in the 50 Backstroke. The Lopes ended the season on a high note with a second-place finish, behind Georgia Tech Swim Club, out of 36 total teams.

“We have a lot of people returning next year and we’re bringing on some really decent athletes as well,” said Phung. “My goal is to win every meet we go to and finish top ten at nationals.”

Interested in GCU Club Swimming? Contact Head Coach Jeremy Phung for more information!