BY MELISSA TORRE
After battling through rigorous meets since early October of last year, the Spartan swim team has finally reached the pinnacle of their season: the Sunshine State Conference Championship. The meet, which will take place at the YMCA Aquatic Center in Orlando, is a key determining factor if the team wants qualifying swimmers competing at Nationals in Indianapolis, Indiana. on Mar. 9
To prepare for the cumulative tournament, the team has been slowing down their intensity in practice, undergoing a process called tapering and also working on fixing minor adjustments. Ten thousandths of a second might not sound like a lot to an outsider unfamiliar with the sport, but in the swimming world this minor time difference can be crucial to qualify for nationals. Tapering, according to USA Swimming, is a calculated rest period designed to “reduce the physiological and psychological stress of daily training and optimize sports performance” before important competitions.
“During our taper phase, we go through a checklist of everything we have stressed over the season. Starts, turns, tempo, stroke count, and race strategy,” head coach Edward Brennan said.
In the tapering phase, practice isn’t as high intensity as it normally is, says senior Jeremy Parker. The practices are a lot shorter than the normal two hours, often ending in an hour and a half or less. In addition to the shorter practice, the team often swims less during this time. Usually practices consist of 6000 yards a day, but during this phase of the season the team typically only swims 3000 to 4000.
The team has worked tirelessly to earn this break, even training right before Christmas to ensure they’re prepared. During this stage of the season, the team stays a week after everyone returns home for the holidays and returns the first week of January to begin intensive training. Practices increase from the standard twice a day to three times a day, and even include weight training.
Having a family-like environment on and off the pool deck is a major reason sophomore Emma Hutchings believes the team has been so successful all season. This includes s having big meals together the weekend before a big race, hanging out frequently, and sticking around to support each other during meets.
“I think cheering is a really big part of what our team does, we really support each other,” Hutchings said. ‘Even if we have a bad swim you can always pick it up the next day, and I just think we come together a lot better as a group than a lot of other teams.”
On the women’s team, key swimmers to look out for at this meet include freshmen Ali Lombardi and Makayla Ayers.
“Ayers is a very consistent swimmer. She’s got a lot of stamina, the back halves of her races are very strong, and Lombardi has been working really hard on her breaststroke,” Hutchings said.
On the men’s team, five Spartans were under the Olympic trial time standards this summer. Seniors Khalid Aldaboos, Jorden Augier, Runar Borgen, Jeremy Parker and Martin Hammer. The Spartans broke the NCAA Division II record in the 200m Freestyle Relay in December, and are currently ranked No.1 in the country in both sprint relays.
“It’s crazy, it’s just like the excitement is so much different being part of a relay, me personally I love relays, so I swim a second and a half faster on a relay than I normally would. It’s just amazing,” Parker said.
With intense training comes nutrition in order to keep up. The team does not implement a specific diet for its swimmers to follow, but they know the key to performing well is eating clean. Some swimmers take it upon themselves to implement dieting rituals before major meets.
“I personally eat a lot of protein before meets.Three weeks leading up to the meet I eat strictly proteins, and then a week before, I start carb loading so I can get more energy,” Parker said.
With a strong, healthy team set in stone, an additional determining factor for the team’s success so far this season has a lot to do with UT’s coaching staff.
“I think we’re the only team in the country that has two full-time faculty members on the pool deck everyday,” Brennan said “Math professor Stephanie Branham and chemistry professor Phil Murray are both former All-Americans at UT. Ryan Gober is this year’s Florida age group coach of the year, and Jim Kiner is a former NCAA champion at UT. Our coaching staff is an embarrassment of riches, they are far and away the best coaching staff in Division II.”