By: Chase Gardiner/GCU Staff
A second place finish at a big meet? Reason for both celebration… and reflection.
Despite the fact that was just their second official meet of the fall semester, the Grand Canyon University Club Swimming team still walked away with second place at the 2018 University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) Fall Invitational.
Although a top-two finish in a qualifying tournament is an exceptional achievement within itself, the weekend results also showed that the Lopes had plenty of room for improvement. With a combined team score of 1004.5, GCU’s second-place finish still fell more than 400 points short of first place Cal Poly (1487). Rather than accept Cal Poly as an unbeatable juggernaut, Lopes Head Coach Jeremy Phung was confident that the only team capable of defeating his athletes were themselves.
“It was a little hard this weekend because at least half of our swimmers didn’t seem to be hitting their best times,” said Phung. “Overall, I didn’t see much improvement from our first meet of the season, and it definitely didn’t look like we were swimming faster times. Honestly, I was kind of surprised that we finished as high as second place.”
While such criticism might seem harsh in the wake of a second place finish, Phung explained that he’s only tough on his team because he’s aware of just how much they can achieve.
“Without a doubt, a lot of our athletes could have finished in the top 16 if they had swam the same times we had in our first meet against ACU (November 3),” explained Phung. “We also had a few athletes who could’ve won some events outright but weren’t able to. If they had been able to perform at a higher level, which they are all capable of, we could have easily placed higher in individual events and possibly as a team as well.”
Why were they unable to produce at a higher level?
“It really just seemed like they were out of their environment,” explained Phung. “Several of our athletes have never competed in outdoor pools like the one at UCLA, and you could see that this kind of threw them off. Not to mention the really cold weather outside, which none of us were prepared for. We also had quite a few athletes who scratched their events, meaning that they decided not to compete in them, and this could’ve cost us points as well.”
While these circumstances surely impacted the performance of his athletes, Phung was quick to accept some responsibility as well.
“I also know that I could have made it more imperative that this was a business trip and not a vacation,” said Phung. “It’s my responsibility to make sure that they are all prepared to compete when they need to be, and this time around I think I made it seem more like a vacation than a competition, and that’s on me.”
Despite so many thoughts on how his team could improve, Phung wasn’t devoid of praise for his athletes.
“We still had a lot to be proud of at the end of the day,” said Phung. “We had 12 new records set, and we managed to have 13 athletes hit qualifying times for nationals in 26 different events.”
Lopes’ junior swimmer Danielle Brandt led the way, hitting her qualifying times in three of the five separate individual events she was in, and also participated in all three team relays. Even with those accomplishments, Brandt echoed her coach’s sentiments regarding the tough environment.
“A lot of our swimmers weren’t used to the cold,” said Brandt. “The order of events was also really different, since this is a different league, and that threw people off, too. I had three events back-to-back, and I had to skip my usual cooldowns to have enough time for the next race.”
Brandt seemed sure, though, that the experience would pay off heavily the next time around.
“It taught us a lot about how to be prepared for events like this in the future,” said Brandt. “(We learned more about) warming up prior, finding better ways to prepare our bodies for situations like that, and being more ready to compete.”
The Lopes plan to compete in another national qualifying event in the New Year. By doing so, Phung is confident his team will be able to have even more swimmers qualify for nationals.
“Our team goal is to have half of each team qualify for nationals, so that means having 11 women and 5 men qualify,” explained Phung. “We had 9 women and 4 men qualify this time, so we are already really close to that. I’m sure that if we learn from this experience and build off of all the good that we had, we should have no problem achieving that goal.”
Interested in joining the club swimming team? Contact the coach to learn more!