Swimming eyes conference title three-peat
The women’s swimming team starts its long season Saturday with its eyes on a third-straight American Athletic Conference Championship.
On top of a three-peat, the Cougars want to qualify more people for the NCAA Championships after it sent three swimmers last season, two of whom returned to the team.
“To be top 25 at the NCAA Championships is the milestone that we’re shooting for. We gotta get more kids there. The big goal is to get points on the board,” said head coach Ryan Wochomurka.
Swimmers qualify individually for the NCAA tournament and earn points for their school by placing high in events.
The two swimmers returning with the experience from the NCAA tournament are juniors Zarena Brown and Peyton Kondis, a team co-captain.
Brown won three individual events at the AAC Championships while Kondis won the 100 Breaststroke for the second time in a row, which helped them qualify for the NCAA Championships.
When the Cougars took to the NCAA Championships in Ohio, they welcomed the 281-swimmer competition and were welcomed right back.
“It was awesome because when we were out on the pool deck other coaches came up to us and said how nice it was to see UH represented at the NCAAs again,” Brown said.
While Brown and Kondis were unable to place in any events, they said competing against Olympians like gold medalist Katie Ledecky and other national team members was an eye-opening experience.
“I learned just how that every small little detail counts,” Brown said. “I was watching the video tapes of these elite swimmers passing me (because of the little things).”
It was always easy to learn from mistakes though, Brown said. Learning to control her emotions was one of the biggest things she learned when she first arrived on campus.
“I had big expectations, and when I wouldn’t reach them I would get really upset,” Brown said. “I learned that everything, whether it is bad or good, is a learning experience.”
Brown said her sophomore year was about getting better at balancing school and swimming, especially with the AAC Championships positioned close to midterms and the NCAA tournament close to finals.
But for Kondis, her second year at UH was her first as one of the co-captains of the team.
“I learned a lot about understanding my teammates and what motivates them. Learning how to go out of myself when I am having a bad day to take care of others,” Kondis said. “It was a really great year of learning how to be a better me.”
In the offseason, Brown said she worked on her flip turns and getting tighter and quicker in general to cut out wasted movements.
Meanwhile, Kondis recovered from a wrist surgery to fix a minor tendon injury she had during last season. With the injury fixed, Kondis’ personal goal is to stay healthy and return to the NCAA Championship.
“I want to swim with fearlessness. I don’t want to be afraid of events,” Kondis said.
There is still a long road to get to the NCAA tournament in February, and it is one of the most grueling parts of the sport.
“It’s very hard mentally because you get into December and it’s Christmas time and you’re missing home and just want the season to be over,” Brown said. “But about three weeks before conference championships, we get really excited.”
The long season also provides many opportunities to notice, and most importantly fix, mistakes which could make or break the team at the championship meets.
Before the team gets to the championship, it must start its season off right. The first meet of the season is against Incarnate Word on Saturday at the Natatorium in the Recreation & Wellness Center.
It will be the first test of the season for these Cougars as a unit but not for most of the swimmers’ college careers.
Every team is a little bit different as seniors graduate and newcomers add a new dynamic to the team. Some teams can be very confident while others are afraid of the unknown.
“The dynamic of this year is that this is a hungry team,” Wochomurka said. “We’ve been a very young team for the past couple years, and now we have juniors and seniors that have great experience and sophomores that established themselves as freshmen.”
The Cougars have four seniors, 10 juniors, 11 sophomores and eight freshmen on the roster, which has given the team its identity.
All the upperclassmen except for one junior transfer were on the two championship teams, and the sophomores have only known the taste of the championship. It has raised the bar high, but has raised the teams’ conviction even higher.
“It ups the expectation, but it also gives us confidence knowing that we were able to do it twice and as long as we continue to work hard, we’ll be there again,” Kondis said.