Victory certainly was sweet for the UCSB swim teams last weekend, as both the men’s and women’s squads cruised to Big West Conference Championship wins at the Belmont Plaza in Long Beach. The Gaucho teams pulled out victories after four days of intense competition, giving UCSB its first dual titles since 2001.
“We had a spectacular weekend,” Head Coach Gregg Wilson said. “It was a very fitting conclusion for the team.”
The men’s team ended with 821 points to finish well ahead of second-place UC Davis’ 733. The women’s competition was tighter; the Gauchos defeated the Aggies by less than 30 points, 785-756.
“In the 30 years I’ve been coaching, this is the most fun that I’ve had,” Wilson said. “To end it like this is very satisfying.”
Many individual swimmers had outstanding meets in Long Beach. The coaches voted freshman Katy Freeman Big West Freshman of the Year for her efforts this season. She finished with victories in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke to go along with two relay titles.
Along with Freeman, freshman Bradley Matsumoto helped the Gauchos to their dual titles, winning the 50-meter freestyle and swimming with both the 200- and 400-meter free relay teams, which took second and first, respectively.
“[Matsumoto] won the 50 free as a freshman and was outstanding on our relays,” Wilson said. “Jason Lezak, our Olympic freestyle sprinter, was not as good of a freshman as Bradley.”
Other individual event winners for the Gauchos included sophomore Brooks Felton in the 1,000-meter freestyle and junior Pat Cary in the 100-meter butterfly. The men’s team also won the 800-meter freestyle relay, while the women cruised to victories in four out of the five relays.
While many Gauchos took home individual or relay titles, the most important factors in the victories were the extreme depth of the squads and the quality swims by the supporting members of the teams.
“Pat Ota had probably one of the best days of swimming that any of our swimmers have ever had on Friday,” Wilson said. “Leading off the medley relay, he broke the school and conference record in the 100 backstroke.”
On the women’s side, senior Jen Cook finished with an impressive time in the 200-meter breaststroke.
“Jen Cook had the best swim of her life, I think, and it was her last swim,” Wilson said. “She took second, but she had a lifetime best time. You like to see that with seniors on their last meet.”
Following the meet, Coach Wilson was voted the Big West Coach of the Year for both the men’s and women’s teams, his 12th award on the men’s side and ninth on the women’s side. Wilson was quick to share the honors with his assistant coaches as well.
“I take it with a grain of salt because my whole team knows [assistant coaches] Naya [Higashijima], Jeremy [Kipp] and I are equal,” Wilson said. “We all coach equally and they share this award with me.”
Despite the Coach of the Year honor, Wilson still had to comply with a bet he made with his swimmers: He allowed them to shave his head at Monday’s team meeting because both the men and women took home titles.
“I had way more hair than I thought I had,” Wilson said.