Before the 2009 Big West Swimming and Diving Championships, Gaucho Head Coach Gregg Wilson laid out his expectations for the tournament.
“The women are going to maul the other teams,” he said. “[It’ll be] like men going against little girls. But the men are going to be put to the task. ”
Wilson’s predictions proved true on Saturday evening after four days at the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool in Long Beach, Calif., when the Gaucho men and women collectively clinched seven event titles, four meet records, three conference records and four school records on their way to first place. The women, who won by 135 points, have now won four straight conference titles, with 13 wins overall. The men won the event for the second consecutive year. They have won the tournament 28 times.
“It was one of the better ones we had in the last three decades,” Wilson said. “It was classic. We’ve done this [three or four times] before in my 30 years where it’s come down to the wire, and we’re very thankful that the kids responded. They should be proud.”
Tournament rules dictate that diving points count toward the total number of points earned in the tournament, even though only two of the six Big West swimming teams – Davis and Irvine – have diving squads. The Aggie men earned 140 points from the diving competition and their women earned 130, points that were inaccessible to the Gauchos and the three other Big West teams who do not have diving programs.
In spite of the disadvantage, the Gaucho women collected 880 points. Second place Davis earned 745 points, while Pacific rounded out the top three with 529. In the men’s competition, the Gauchos only beat second place UC Davis by 17 points, tallying 849.5 for the tournament. Third place UC Irvine earned 636.5 points.
“A lot of the coaches are talking about the diving situation,” Wilson said. “It’s going to have to be looked at because the teams [can] fall off the board and get points. There’s no competitive equity.”
The event began on Wednesday, Feb. 25, with the Gauchos taking the men’s and women’s 200 medley relay. The Davis men would disqualify from the 200.
“It was luck that Davis [disqualified] on the first night,” Wilson said. “[It] was a big point difference. But we capitalized.”
From Thursday to Saturday, the swimmers participated in morning preliminaries that dictated which group they would swim in during the finals in the evening. The swimmers with the best eight times in each event during the prelims swam in the championship final, while the next eight swam in the consolation final and the remaining swam in the bonus final.
By Friday night, the UCSB women already held a 118-point lead over Davis. Meanwhile, the Gaucho men only led Davis by 11.5 going into Saturday’s competition. After a disastrous 200 freestyle event, in which he had to throw off his goggles and swimming cap midstroke in the second lap, freshman Kevin Ferguson bounced back in the 100 backstroke on Friday evening, finishing with a personal best time of 48.61 seconds. Senior Bradley Matsumoto took third place in the event (49.21). The Aggies took second and fourth when, in the prelims, they took first and second. According to Wilson, Ferguson’s win “knocked [Davis] off their pegs.”
“It’s different, being a freshman going into this program, not knowing what the meet is about at the end of the season. I didn’t know what to expect,” freshman Kevin Ferguson said. “Being able to finally see what everyone has been working so hard the whole year to do was really amazing.”
In the fourth event of Saturday’s prelim competition, the Gaucho men took six of the top eight spots in the 100 free, allowing them to earn 80 points in the championship round of that event and giving the team a 29-point lead. Gaucho sophomore Kevin Kuhn took first in the event with a time of 43.74 – .01 seconds from the NCAA Championships “B” qualifying standard.
Senior Chris Good broke his own school record with a time of 1:45.40 in the 200 back. Junior Anne Marie May set a Big West Championship meet record with a time of 48.91 in the 100 free. Senior Nadia Dwidar took second in the event, hitting the wall in 50.11. In the 200 breaststroke, senior Katy Freeman broke the school, conference and meet record with a time of 2:09.12, beating out Davis star junior Heidi Kucera and earning a time that meets the NCAA Championships “A” qualifying standard. Sophomore Sara Nicponski took third in the event.
“I’m not gonna lie, it felt pretty good [to beat Heidi],” Freeman said. “She is an amazing racer, we had a couple of close ones throughout the weekend. It felt really good to go out on a limb in my last Big West race.”
The Gauchos have a couple weeks before the NCAA Tournament at Texas A&M, which will be held on March 19-21 for the women and March 26-28 for the men. May, Freeman and Nicponski have already qualified for the tournament, while the women’s 200 and 400 medley relay teams are on the ropes. The men’s 200 freestyle relay team has also qualified, along with freshman Ethan Bradley and senior Jeff Sudbury. The NCAA Tournament takes 270 of the country’s best times in all of the events.
“It’s really surreal to be finished with the Big West,” Freeman said. “I honestly feel like I’m still a freshman, watching the seniors four years ago doing their senior presentation. I’m really glad to be able to have won a championship with this team this year and finish the Big West with a race I was proud of.”