By: Chase Gardiner/GCU Staff
In their very first appearance on the national tournament level, the Grand Canyon University Club Swimming teams posted a pair of top-40 finishes at the Collegiate Club Swim (CCS) and Dive Nationals. Out of the 119 club teams that made the trip to Columbus, Ohio, for the tournament, the men’s and women’s teams both placed 37th overall, while GCU finished a combined 39th place.
Over the past few seasons, the Lopes have had plenty of opportunities to compete against high level competition in Arizona and California. However, joining the CCS program at the start of the year presented them with the unique opportunity to compete against a larger pool of teams from all across the nation. While the Lopes may not have known what to expect in this first trip to nationals, Lopes’ Head Coach Jeremy Phung was thrilled with the way that his team competed throughout the event.
“They blew any expectations that I had out of the water,” said Phung. “The only thing we really expected going in was that our athletes would be able to drop a little bit of their time, but they were all beating any expectations I had going in. I actually had to raise my expectations going into day three, since most everyone was swimming either season-best times or even lifetime bests.”
For many athletes, competing on the big stage is accompanied by extra pressure and increased nerves. However, the Lopes seemed more than ready to step up and perform in the biggest meet of the season.
“I think the biggest reason everyone was so successful was because of how excited and motivated we all were,” explained Phung. “It was a long season full of plenty of training and practice, and this was the moment that all that preparation came together. I remember talking about this meet in our very first meeting, so now that we got here, everyone was just incredibly motivated to give it their all.”
Phung’s words several months ago apparently weren’t lost on the team last weekend.
“The coaching staff had been telling us how this would be the first nationals competition in program history, and we knew that this would be our chance to show up and prove that all of our hard work was going to pay off,” said Lopes’ swimmer Rachel King.
“This is what we were working towards all season,” added GCU swimmer Madison Hotmer. “We all knew that the environment and competition would be different, but we were prepared to see all of our dedication pay off.”
While their first ever national competition went “swimmingly”, the Lopes are already analyzing how they can be better prepared for next year’s event.
“One of the biggest takeaways for us was just how long each day actually was,” explained Phung. “Some days, we were warming up by 7 am, and winding down at about 10 pm, so our days were really long. We’ll have to find ways to utilize our time better, whether that means more efficient travel, or just taking rest whenever we can get it.”
The Lopes’ plan for improvement includes technical changes in the pool as well.
“Probably the biggest thing we will look to be better at is our underwater kicks,” explained Phung. “They call it the sixth stroke for a reason. If we can improve here, it should help us to achieve our other goals, like placing a relay in finals next year.”
In addition to the immediate observations from last weekend, the Lopes are also hoping that the exposure from an event of this size will have an impact on the team’s growth.
“I think that the pictures and videos and memories that we have will be huge tools for growing the team going forward,” said Lopes’ veteran swimmer Samuel Jones. “When people are coming in and are interested in the program, and they can see not just what we achieved but how much fun we had, they will definitely be more inclined to join.”
Phung has already seen that influx of interest begin.
“We’ve been promoting this event on our social media pages for the past two weeks, and in that time alone, we’ve had about 300 people visiting our profile,” explained Phung. “When we got back, I checked my email, and I had received 7 new emails from people interested in joining the team, which is more than I’ve ever received in such a small amount of time. It’s just truly incredible to see the team growing, and that their success is garnering more well deserved attention.”
If you are interested in joining in on the growth of the GCU Club Swimming team, make sure to contact the coach and learn more!