The Cal Poly swim and dive team lost its dual meet against rival UC Santa Barbara last weekend, concluding the regular season.
Eighteen swimmers from each of the men’s and women’s teams will compete in conference championships during the next two weeks. The women compete in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Swimming Championship in Los Angeles from Feb. 15-18 and the men compete in the Pac-12 Championships Feb. 29 to Mar. 3.
Head coach Tom Milich said his teams could use more rest, but he still expects they will finish toward the top of the conference.
“We don’t necessarily get the most talented kids in the world,” Milich said. “They’re good, but they’re really willing to work hard, and that can help someone get better in a longer race.”
This year, Cal Poly’s men finished 1-4 in dual meets in their second Pac-12 season, and the women finished 4-4 in the MPSF.
Milich has coached men’s and women’s swim teams at Cal Poly for six seasons. He also coaches diving part-time along with a volunteer and assistant coach.
Despite smaller facilities and less financial support, Milich said Cal Poly swimmers fare well against “big schools” in long distance events because stamina can be taught.
Competitively swimming long distance six to 10 months out of the year requires training for success — Cal Poly’s first practice was Sept. 6.
“With swimming, you really can’t take much time off,” Milich said. “These kids are in the water pretty much year-round.”
Hard work earned senior team captain Lacey Buck school records in the 500 and 1,650 meters — known in the lanes as “the mile” — freestyle events. She has never lost the mile at a dual meet in her Cal Poly career, dating back to 2008.
Buck, following with the tradition, won both of her races. The team, however, lost in what marked Buck’s final dual meet as a Mustang at UCSB on Saturday. She said the contest was “bittersweet,” but her role as team captain calls for at least one more strong performance at the upcoming conference championships.
“We have a young team this year, so I’m just trying to bring the team really close and get really excited,” she said. “The way we all feel going into a meet really affects each other.”
Buck understands the value of team camaraderie; she is one of four seniors on the women’s team — along with Gloria Benefield, Kylie France and Amy Morales — to set a new school record over the past four years.
The development happened differently for each senior and came at different points in their careers, according to Buck, but it definitely had something to do with a mutual drive.
“Swimmers are all pretty close,” she said. “We all spend so much time and experience so much together.”
It’s not just the women who bond, though. Both the women’s and men’s teams spend time with one another practicing at Anderson Aquatic Center and traveling to dual meets together.
And youth was also the story for the men’s team this season, during which only one senior — Aaron McKinnon — swam for the Mustangs. The men’s team struggled to compete against top-ranked schools such as the University of California Berkeley, who won the 2011 NCAA men’s and women’s National Championships
After graduating all-time great Peter Kline and two seniors who earned All-American mentions last June, the men’s team relied on solid performances in its Pac-12 meets from sophomores Konrad Antoniuk, Adrian Brynnel and Joey Wasko.
Antoniuk said the team lost a lot of strong swimmers, but it is looking forward to an opportunity to prove itself against larger schools.
“We worked very hard all year and we’re ready to show it,” he said.
Antoniuk also said he and his young teammates can learn from this season and prepare better for the next one.
“I’m going to need to get more rest, train better and stay motivated every day to be able to compete with the guys in the Pac-12,” he said.
One male, freshman diver Elliott Adams, will compete at the Pac-12 Conference Diving Championships in Federal Way, Wash., Feb. 22 to 25. Three female divers will travel to Colorado Springs to represent the Mustangs at the MPSF Diving Championships while the swim team competes in Los Angeles.
Top qualifiers at any conference championships will advance to the NCAA Championships, which take place in mid-March.