Santa Barbara will face deep competition when it jumps into the pool Wednesday to begin the Big West Swimming and Diving Championships held in Long Beach.

The Gaucho men are the defending conference champs and have won 24 of the last 26 championship meets.

“It puts some pressure on us,” sophomore butterfly swimmer Pat Cary said. “But we’re ready for the challenge.”

The Gaucho men, who ended their season with a 7-3 record in dual meet competition, will now be one of six schools competing for the conference crown, due to the introduction of Davis to the Big West this year. The women, who ended with a 10-6 dual-meet record, will be one of seven teams as Idaho reinstates its women’s swimming program this season. Both the men and women will be on the lookout for the defending Women’s Conference Champs and 2002-03 and 2003-04 Men’s Conference Champs – Pacific.

“UOP is for sure our biggest competition,” Cary said. “They have a great team, they’ve got a lot of seniors and they’re a fast team. They beat us in Vegas just before [Winter] Break.”

Pacific took first at the UNLV Invitational held Dec. 18-20, which was in the same format as the upcoming conference championships. With multiple teams competing in the same events, it will take overall team depth to take the title.

“It’s not going to be the guys who finish first, but the other guys who get into the top eight with them,” Cary said. “To do that we’ll need to have some good morning swims in the preliminaries.”

Swimmers like Cary, sophomore Jennifer Schwalb and senior backstroker Lindsay Delonzo will need the backup if Santa Barbara is going to come away with the conference title.

“We’re all very confident in our chances,” Cary said. “We have a deep team and we’re ready.”

The championships begin Wednesday and will continue until Saturday, with the various events spread out over the four days of competition.