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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Sports

Victory, revenge on the mind at AAC Championship


Bouter

Sophomore Peyton Kondis was one of 10 all-conference performers last year. She and her teammates are in a position to win another title, this time on the road at SMU. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

Some teams do a victory lap to celebrate a win. Others go as far as jumping into the bleachers. The swimming & diving team jumps into a pool whenever they win a championship.

Two years ago, the swimming & diving team was forced to watch the SMU Mustangs jump into UH’s  Campus Recreation and Wellness Center Natatorium pool when they won the American Athletic Conference title. Now the Cougars, the defending champions, have a chance to repay the favor as they travel to Southern Methodist University in Dallas for the conference championship this weekend.

“That was a little hard for our kids to watch,” said head coach Ryan Wochomurka. “It’s a brand new facility there (at SMU), so it’s a little bit of an unknown for everybody in the conference. But that’s the only main difference. It’s still 25 yards, the water’s still wet, but I think (being on the road) actually heightens the emotions a little bit.”

The team made history last year by winning its first conference title in program history. It was something that had alluded the program — a producer of numerous NCAA champions and Olympians — in its near 40-year history.

Last year, the Cougars had 18 podium finishes at the AAC Championship, which they hosted, and 10 athletes received all-conference honors. Nine of those athletes returned to the squad and have continued the winning culture under Wochomurka.

The presence of individuals like redshirt senior Micaela Bouter, last year’s Diver of the Meet, has been crucial to the 13 freshmen on the squad. The mixture of upperclassmen leadership and freshmen talent has put the swimmers and divers in a position to win every meet they have competed in this season.

“We’re very confident going in, we just don’t want to be too confident,” Bouter said. “We should win, but we’ve got to bring the same spirit, same enthusiasm and the same motivation as last year. (We’ve) got to break some more records.”

Even with the consequences of Hurricane Harvey, the team started the year strong and never seemed to stop. They went undefeated in the fall, including a win against SMU in Houston on Oct. 20.

They later faced off against SEC schools such as LSU and Arkansas and had double-digit podium finishes multiple times.

Their success on the year was highlighted by numerous weekly honors from the AAC. Bouter was named Diver of the Week on three separate occasions, and both senior Ksenia Yuskova and sophomore Zarena Brown were named “Swimmer of the Week” at different points.

Brown was also named the National Swimmer of the Week by CollegeSwimming.com after winning three events against SMU in October.

“We’ve definitely had a lot of girls get a lot of best times, including myself,” Brown said. “We’ve already had two girls make the NCAA’s, we’re looking at a third one already. We’ve just overall gotten better as a team. We understand what we’re up against, and we’re not afraid of it.”

That has been Wochomurka’s message to the team all year: Be fearless. Their past performances have shown they have the talent to win another title, and despite not having their own locker room, they have every chance to pull out a win on the road.

“We’d like to be in a position where on the last day, we’ve got a shot to win,” Wochomurka said. “Winning the conference championship last year was a new height for our program, and our goal is to be in contention for a championship every year.”

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