Swimming kicks off season in new athletic center

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The St. Thomas men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams kicked off the season Saturday in the new Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex pool with the St. Thomas relays, a non-scoring meet.

The atmosphere Saturday at the new pool was great, coach Tom Hodgson said.

“I know the other teams were excited to be here,” Hodgson said, “and we’re just thrilled to be able to host a meet of this caliber in this pool.

“The meet did nothing to dissuade me from the fact that this is one of the fastest pools in this part of the country.”

While the event was less formal than regular-season meets, the St. Thomas relays gave the swimming teams the opportunity to gauge their MIAC competitors. The diving competition was held at St. Kate’s.

Both the men’s and women’s swimming programs had exceptional seasons last year. The men’s team won its first MIAC championship since 1954 and had a number of individuals perform well in the NCAA Championships at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. The women’s team placed third in the MIAC championships and was led by then-junior Becca Ney, the MIAC’s Most Outstanding women’s swimmer.

Women’s goal: Top three conference finish

The expectations to perform are high coming off last year’s success and competing in one of the best pools in the state this season, Ney said.

“The girls would like to place again in the top three at conference,” she said. “Everyone is setting goals and just trying to get better every time.”

Ney said she personally feels the pressure to succeed after last year’s three championship wins and Most Outstanding women’s swimmer award.

“With the new pool, there’s going to be a little bit more pressure to sustain that,” she said. “I definitely have goal times that are better than last season, so as long as I do better than those times, I’ll be happy with that.”

Both the men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs started lifting weights three times per week as part of the program’s in-season training. Ney said she’s benefited from medicine ball training in the past, and she’s happy that weight training was added to the program.

The St. Thomas relays was the first collegiate event for Tommie freshman swimmers and divers. Hodgson said he’s expecting “major contributions from those freshmen.”

Men’s goal: Repeat as conference champions

Senior Grant Frost, who swam in the NCAA championships in the men’s 400 medley relay last season, said the expectation for the men’s team is to win back-to-back MIAC championships and to make a bigger impact at the national tournament than last year.

The new swimming facilities have given the program a confidence boost, Frost said.

“We feel like a more powerful team,” he said. “We feel like it’s a bigger deal. We feel like the school has a ton of more support behind us with this new facility, and we’re just riding on the energy. It’s great.”

The men’s team has to make up for the loss of former swimming star Peter Mulee, who has eight Tommie swimming records and placed third in the men’s 200 backstroke at the NCAA championships last season. Mulee graduated last year.

But the team has a number of returners and a stellar freshman class. Frost said some of the freshmen will make an immediate impact, but it will be more important for them to swim well at the end of the season.

“Everyone goes to the championship, but everyone has to show up at the championship,” Frost said. “That’s where it counts. We really won’t see [how they do] until the end of the season.”

While both Frost and Hodgson said St. Olaf will be a tough competitor in the MIAC this season, Frost said he believes a MIAC championship is still in sight.

“I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but that would be our expectation,” he said.

Both teams are in action Nov. 6 at Hamline for the Hamline Invitational.

Miles Trump can be reached at mttaylorjohn@stthomas.edu.