“Going into races.., you really have nothing to lose”: WashU club swim shines at nationals

| Managing Sports Editor

Senior Andrei Schwartz competes in the Men’s 100 Backstroke at nationals. (Photo Courtesy of WashU Club Swim.)

Last year, the Washington University club swim team only had 15 swimmers qualify for Nationals. But in one of the most exciting seasons, the club has seen in years, a total of 27 swimmers qualified for Nationals this past spring season.

“We had several swimmers make finals [and] several swimmers score points,” junior Koji Barrette, President of the WashU Swim Club, said. “We placed 27th [compared to] last year when we placed 78th. So, big jump. But I think [that] most of all, we’ve really grown as a team, both in size and [in] camaraderie, and we’ve just had a really successful season.”

Coming off the COVID-19 pandemic, Barrette noted that it’s been a challenge creating a club environment that resembles pre-COVID times. But this year, the club made significant progress.

“We were coming off of COVID, so last year was like the first actual year that we had an actual season as a club,” Barrette said. “This year, I think we did a really good job building off of it. We had a remarkable [number] of members in our first few practices, and we continued to have consistent attendance and competition.”

The WashU club swim team had a terrific finish to their season this past March at this year’s College Club Swimming Nationals meet that took place at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Competing against swim clubs from Division I schools, such as Ohio State University and Duke University, the WashU swim club contested valiantly to score enough points and allow their club members to have fun.

“We were one of only two Division III colleges that were at Nationals this year and last year. I’m pretty sure it was just us and Emory. And last year, we brought 15. This year, we brought 27. And some of the bigger schools [like] Ohio State […] would bring 50 to 60 swimmers.” 

“Going to Nationals and being one of the only DIII schools there, it adds [a feeling of being] the underdog, in a sense,” sophomore club member John Tischke said. “So going into races and going into relays, you really have nothing to lose. There’s no reputation that you’re trying to uphold. It’s just, you gotta go out there as fast as you can and really — like genuinely — have a good time with it.”

Despite the many high-level schools that were present at the meet, WashU club swim stayed calm and competed to the best of its capabilities — all while having fun.

“This year, we were toe-to-toe with schools like USC and Texas A&M,” said Barrette. “These are schools that we beat in terms of scoring this year [that] have humongous undergraduate populations. [This] just goes to show that we’re a smaller school, but we absolutely have the capacity to go toe-to-toe with these bigger schools.”

And toe-to-toe club swim went with some of America’s giant institutions. Throughout the entire Nationals championship weekend, club swim’s monumental performances were led by senior Andrei Schwartz, who finished fourth in the Men’s 50 Yard Backstroke with a time of 23.14 seconds. Schwartz had a recorded time of 22.82 seconds in the Men’s 50 Yard Backstroke in the preliminaries. With a fourth-place finish, the senior recorded 18 points for his team. 

Other notable performers included Barrette, who finished 16th place in the Men’s 100 Fly, managing to register five points for his team. The junior also finished 22nd in the Men’s 200 Yard Fly with a time of 1:59.10. Graduate student Emily Fox finished 26th in the Women’s 200 Yard Backstroke with a time of 2:16.69, and junior Alexis Hernandez swam a terrific race in the Women’s 200 Free, finishing in 12th place with a time of 1:59.13. 

And while individual performances were strong, the club also put up several relays that competed well.

“Relays are the best…, you take your four best guys or your four best girls and you swim against the other schools,” said Barrette. “It’s a great way to tell where you stand.” 

Specifically, the Men’s 800 Yard Free Relay of sophomore Noah Lucy, senior Jeffrey Chi, Tischke, and Barrette finished 23rd with a time of 7:17.34. In the Men’s 400 Yard Medley Relay, WashU finished 11th with a team made up of Schwartz, junior Caleb Saffold, junior Lleyton Martin, and Barrette with a time of 3:27.67.

On the women’s side, a WashU Women’s 400 Yard Medley Relay team of Fox, graduate student Amanda Yu, WashU law student Willa Wu, and freshman Ivey Smith finished 27th with a time of 4:17.57.

Aside from improving the total number of club members who qualified for Nationals, WashU club swim also improved the total number of female club members that traveled to Columbus in March from one to eight.

“This year specifically, Koji made sure that everybody was able to swim, and I really like [that] every girl that wanted to [compete could]. [It was] really awesome, especially given that we only had eight girls,” freshman club member Ivey Smith said. “We have graduate students on the team: Emily and Willa — which is really fun. Emily specifically helped put together a lot of relays because she used to help out with the varsity team.”

In an environment where money and funding are always an issue, Barrette noted that club swim is grateful for the help and assistance they received from Student Union (SU). For many other schools, students often have to pay expensive fees to be able to participate in their schools’ swimming clubs, but the funding that WashU club swim received for their activities greatly alleviated many of those costs.

“I have to give thanks to the Student Union [for allowing us] to bring this team of swimmers to Nationals,” Barrette said. “Other schools have to pick and choose [and] charge their swimmers outrageous dues because they don’t have the funding that we have. So, one reason why we’re able to have such a presence at Nationals is because of the support [from] the Student Union.”

Despite a successful ending to their season this year, Barrette noted that there’s still a lot that he wants to do to make club swim a more meaningful and welcoming place for WashU students, regardless of their swimming capabilities. 

“Our overarching challenge is always going to be the fact that we have this no-cut policy,” Barrette said. “As long as you’re able to swim, it doesn’t matter what your time is — we are going to create a practice for you […] so that you’ll get something out of it. If you just want to stay in shape, that’s great. If you want to train for Nationals swimming competitively, that’s great, too.”

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