If you ask the head swimming and diving coach at the University of the Incarnate Word what his expectations are for next year, he doesn’t pause for a second. “National championship. On both,” Coach Phillip Davis said. “Nothing less.”
This may seem a tall order for a program that was just getting off of the ground four years ago but the performance of both teams at the national meet this year was nothing short of remarkable. Twenty-eight members of the swim and dive team competed in Canton, Ohio, at the Division II National Championships for Swimming and Diving, March 11-14. For the first time, the women’s team from Incarnate Word made a national relay cut.
“Not only did we make one, we made four of the five,” Davis said. “That was a big deal to me.” The only team seniors were Rachel Watson and Nora Szilagyi, who both participated in the relays. Szilagyi is the team record holder in the 200 breaststroke and hit the national mark in that event as well as in the 100 freestyle.
“She was my first real recruit,” Dav is said of Szilagyi. “Her making nationals this year was really special to me. As a senior she’ll be really tough to replace.”
Watson has competed in nationals all four years and holds school records for the 50 free, 100 free, 200 free, and 200 IM. She competed on the 200 freestyle relay and 400 medley relay in addition to the 200 medley relay this year at nationals. Losing these two swimmers means looking for recruits to pick up the slack, Davis said.
“You can’t replace Rachel Watson, not with one person,” Davis said. “Every one of those relays that went to nationals, she’s a huge part of.”
The two seniors competed on the 200 medley relay with teammates Joy Turner and Tamiris Nascimento, both sophomores. They finished in the top 10, taking sixth place with a time of 1:44.83. Nascimento also placed second in the 100 freestyle at 49.94 and fifth in the 50 freestyle at 23.39. Turner took ninth in the 100 butterfly with a time of 56.37. For the women’s team, Lesley Murray also performed in top-10 style, placing fifth in the 200 butterfly with a time of 2:03.47.
Thirteen women competed this year and earned the team 11th in the nation. The men took 15 swimmers and divers to Canton and took second place overall. Hard work and sacrifice paved the way for Incarnate Word. I think the most unique thing about this team is how hard they work,” says Davis. “Individual to individual, we’re probably the hardest-working team that I’ve ever been around in any sport.”
Also important were the sacrifices swimmers made for the benefit of the whole team, especially two-time national champion in the 500 freestyle, junior Aliaksandr Yatsko.
“He did not balk at swimming a tougher lineup of events and really put his chances of repeating a third time in jeopardy,” Davis said. “He had no problem with that. Whatever was best for the team. It’s good to see so much teamwork.”
Yatsko finished sixth in the 500 freestyle and top-10 in four individual events including the 1000 freestyle, the 400 IM, and the 200 freestyle. Teammate and freshman Conrado Chede claimed the 500 freestyle title. He won with a time of 4:29.30, making this the third straight year for UIW to take first in this event.
“I always wanted to go to a national championship in America,” said Chede, a native of Brazil. “I wanted to win.”
Chede also placed second in the 1000 freestyle and 1650 freestyle as well as finishing 10th in the 200 freestyle.
Swimmers Patrick Cardenas and Mark Rubin agree: “You have to show appreciation for the 500 freestyle.”
Rubin placed fourth at nationals in the 500 as well as finishing top-10 in the 1000 and 1650 freestyle. Rubin, Chede, Yatsko and Cardenas took third in the 800 freestyle relay with a time of 6:42.47. All five of the men’s relays finished in top-10 spots. Individual efforts also aided in the second-place finish for Incarnate Word and a young team bodes well for future competition. Justin McDonald, a freshman diver, placed fifth on the one-meter board with 476.05 points.
“We didn’t lose a single guy from the swim part of it,” Davis said. “All of our points are coming back. We’ve already signed a couple of good kids. We’re already better than we were a year ago. We’re hosting the meet at Palo Alto so there’s nothing short of ‘national championship’ for our goals. Nothing less than a championship is going to do for us.”