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Monday, October 23, 2017

Sports

Q&A: Wochomurka on building toward future success


Head coach Ryan Wochomurka returns nine of the 10 all-conference performers from the team that brought home the Cougars’ first conference title last season. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

Last season head coach Ryan Wochomurka led the swimming and diving team to their first conference title in program history. Behind 10 all-conference performers, they scored 772 points, 96 more than the second-place SMU Mustangs, to win the title.

The Cougars are returning nine of the ten All-Conference performers. Leaving Wochomurka and his athletes confident they will defend their title.

The Cougar took a moment to sit down with Wochomurka.

The Cougar: What’s it been like for the team this offseason after winning the program’s first conference title?

Ryan Wochomurka: We’re ready to start racing again. For us, swimming, it’s a year-round venture. I mean, the NCAA defines seasons for us, but to really peruse this at an elite level, it’s a year-round pursuit. So our kids have been training and racing throughout the summer, but we’re ready to get back and wear the UH cap and race as University of Houston Cougars again. We’re just ready to get going.

The Cougar: How did you get the team to this point where they’re ready to win a title?

Wochomurka: For us, this program had an immense amount of talent from the last decade. Obviously, Mark Taylor who was our long-time head coach passed, and then there was a subsequent quick succession of head coaches. Myself included, I think I was the fifth head coach in four years by the time I got here. But when myself and our assistant coach Hannah (Burandt) and coach Bob (Gunter), our diving coach, what we found was a group that had really galvanized through a lot of that adversity. And for us, it was just steering that into the pool and really challenging ourselves to say, “What can we really do here?”

We have certainly on this campus every single ingredient necessary to be an elite aquatic program at the Division I level (and) at the international level. From facilities to support structure within our own athletic department, from an incredible academic institution. So all the right ingredients are here to really pursue this to the elite level, and we just got to steer it. Having such a great group has been phenomenal. We’ve got a group of young women that have sold out in the belief that we can do a lot of special things here, and that makes our job really easy.

The Cougar: You’re returning nine of the 10 athletes who were named all-conference performers last year. So what’s the next step for this team?

Wochomurka: Winning a championship was one of the goals that we had when we got here. I don’t want to say mission accomplished on that. I don’t want to look past that because that will continue to be a goal we want to do on a yearly basis: to pursue the American Athletic Conference Championship. The next phase in our development of a program is to be relevant on the national level.

It’s been three years now since we had representation at the NCAA championships on the diving side. I think it’s been seven years since we’ve had a swimmer at the NCAA championships. We got really close with a few last year, but close is close. If you’re close, that doesn’t mean you go. So the next phase in our development is to be relevant nationally. That’s putting ourselves in a position to score points at the NCAA championships, and (the) long-term vision of this program is to return to being a top 25 program. Certainly it’s a bold goal right now, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

The Cougar: As a coach, what was it like getting to see Micaela Bouter and Peyton Kondis go to the World Championships?

Wochomurka: Micaela actually went. She represented South Africa at the World Championships. Peyton went to the World Championships Trials in Indianapolis this summer. The diving program at the University of Houston is internationally renowned for decades and has had Olympic medalists. So for Micaela to continue that tradition has been fun to watch.

For Peyton to go to the World Championship trials for the United States, and in an Olympic format, (it’s) just exciting to have the University of Houston represented at that meet. Anybody who is anybody in the swimming world in the United States was there at that meet. So for the University of Houston and Peyton to be there competing against the very best in the U.S. is certainly what we continue to aspire for all our kids.

The Cougar: Who is the clear leader on this team in terms of leading by example?

Wochomurka: Micaela Bouter was elected captain for the second year in a row. Eleanna Koutsouveli and Peyton Kondis (were also) elected captain. I think the three of them will be a great leadership team. Obviously, they’ll have great support from our juniors and seniors and upperclassmen in that leadership role. Those three are certainly some of our top in athletic performers but also the leaders of our program when it comes to academics and decision making.

The Cougar: Who on the team do you want to see take the next step in their performance this year?

Wochomurka: I honestly think there’s not any one individual in particular that we’re really looking for world-shaking performances. That’s what we ask the entirety of our group. Especially right now where we’re at as a program, there’s not going to be one or two people that define our program. And that’s kinda the approach we took to winning a championship. We’ve got 35 women on our roster; it’s going to take 35 people to pursue a championship this year and really chase our dream of being a top 25 program.

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