Swim and dive preps for conference, national meets
After competing in eleven regular season matchups, the Washington University swimming and diving team is heading to the University Athletic Association championships to compete against some of the best teams in Division III. Many of the athletes have been waiting for two years for the chance to compete for a conference championship; this weekend ushers back an important weekend for the nationally-ranked mens and womens teams, who sit 7th and 12th, respectively, as they head to Atlanta to compete against familiar rivals.
This season has been a return to normalcy for the Bears, who were extremely limited by restrictions last year. Without sufficient time in the pool, swimmers couldn’t improve their aerobic base, making it difficult to drop time in their events. They were limited to half their normal pool block time and ultimately only competed in two meets. Now, though, they’ve been able to hold consistent practices and get in the weight room. This winter, they traveled down to Florida on a training trip as a team, living and training together for a week.
The team has also returned to competing in a full slate of meets, having started off the season with the men sweeping Division I St. Louis University 155-75 and the women falling 89-147 in the non-conference dual meet. From there, the men have finished in the top three in all of their meets, led by a strong group of senior upperclassmen. Barclay Dale, Kevin Hao and Nathan Katz headline many of the Bears’ regular season meets, also playing key roles in competitive relay teams. On the women’s team, upperclassmen Sandra Meszaros, Grace Wakiyama and Abby Wilson have the potential to make a big impact for the Bears. Meszaros holds the fastest mark in four events for the Bears this season.
With two classes of athletes who have never competed in a conference meet, the team lacks the experience that it has had in former years. “It’s a new team in the sense that we weren’t able to see everyone in competition,” said Katz. Still, he added that the athletes are still close, returning to some pre-COVID traditions like the trip down to Florida and spaghetti dinners.
The UAA is notoriously competitive; the Emory Eagles haven’t lost a UAA Championship since 1999. Still, the Bears are prepared to fight for a top placing; the men’s goal is to improve on their placing from 2019, when they finished in fifth place, while the women finished in fourth. Individually, swimmers are also trying to get within the top 16 times in the nation in order to qualify for the NCAA Championships, where athletes qualify with seed times. “The events are a lot faster than I would have expected,” Katz said. “It just comes with the territory and makes it more exciting and makes me more eager to get back to competition as a whole.”
For many of the seniors, the next few weeks will be their last time competing for WashU. “It’s tough when you think about the chances that we missed because of last year, but I’m happy to finish strong,” Katz said. “I think we’ll be able to see some top times and top finishes as I close out my career.”