Coming into the 2020-21 season, the Houston swimming and diving team knew everyone was gunning for them because of recent successes.
The Cougars had won four straight American Athletic Conference titles, putting a huge target on their back. So head coach Ryan Wochomurka and his staff made it their mission to emphasize one thing consistently.
“One of the things we talk about consistently is we’re not defending anything,” Wochomurka told The Cougar over Zoom. “The 2020-21 team had not won a championship, so there’s nothing to defend. I think that, in a small way, helps to alleviate the pressure to put a weight on anybody’s shoulders that they have to win this or they have to do that.”
While Wochomurka was right in saying that the 2020-21 UH team had yet to win anything, the roster consisted of plenty of student-athletes who had hoisted the AAC championship trophy multiple times throughout their collegiate careers.
And in a year unlike any other, veteran experience and leadership became more important than ever if UH was to win its fifth straight conference title.
Wochomurka has always said that a team is only as good as its seniors, but the task of senior leadership was the hardest it has ever been this season because of all the unprecedented challenges that arose.
For one, these seniors were not only tasked with having to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic themselves, but also had to find a way to integrate a freshman class that faced more challenges going into college than any other class in recent history due to all the unknown circumstances surrounding the pandemic.
On top of that, the entire team was power and water for days as the AAC Championship drew near due to the winter storm throughout Texas. This forced the team to scramble to find places to practice and prepare for the championship meet.
While the entire season was unpredictable and threw many curveballs at the UH program, one thing remained constant: the seniors always stepped up and rose to the occasion.
“We had to lean on (our seniors) heavily this year and their leadership to help us navigate through an unprecedented year,” Wochomurka said. “Not only did they respond and step up, they did it in spectacular fashion. Our seniors this year certainly led the way in terms of athletic performance and then led the way for us culturally.”
Under strong leadership, the Cougars not only captured their fifth straight AAC title, but did so in dominating fashion by winning all 14 events for a total of 1,009 team points, the most by a women’s program in AAC Championship’s history.
This was an extremely special title for Wochomurka and the UH program, not because of how well the team performed, but because of how much the group overcame.
“I really couldn’t be more proud of our group this year,” Wochomurka said. “Just for our kids to overcome those challenges and then perform the way that they did when they needed to do was just pretty incredible and kind of a defining moment for our program”
While every year is a new opportunity for UH swimming and diving, this year’s seniors raised the bar to new heights and put the program in a great place heading into the future.
“It is extremely satisfying as a coach when you watch your seniors and captains take the ownership of this program to an entirely new level by really helping to develop those freshmen to be the leaders in the coming years,” Wochomurka said.