by Ben Jansen
After finishing in fifth and 15th place at the NCAA Championships last year, The University of Tampa women’s and men’s swim team is looking to build on last season’s success. With both teams being led by head coach, Jimi Kiner, and a large amount of talent returning from last year’s team, the sky is the limit for the Spartans this season.
The men’s team placed 15th overall at the NCAA Championships last season, and they are bringing back a strong amount of the production from that team. The Spartans are returning with six swimmers that were named All-Americans last year by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA).
Among them is Brett Saunders, who placed 15th overall in the 200 Backstroke at the NCAA Championship. However, for this group, being named All-American isn’t the main goal.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be a part of that group [of All-Americans], I made it a goal of mine last year to become an All-American, and I’m happy to have achieved it,” said senior, Aaron James. “This year our goal is simple: win the conference. Last year we put up a strong fight came up 32 points short of that goal. However, I believe this year will be different because of how focused and determined we are not to fall short again.”
Coach Kiner has seen that fire as well in the team.
“There isn’t much of a difference this year compared to last in my opinion the guys are a little more hungry being they were so close to winning last year. The guys know they can compete to win a conference championship and this motivates them and the coaching staff to make themselves better every day,” said Kiner.
Both the men and the women’s team are a hard working group of athletes. It takes a truly dedicated person to wake up at 5:30 every morning to lift/swim then go to class return to the pool for practice at 2 or 4 p.m. (depending on their class schedule) return to their dorm and study.
Along with the group of All-Americans, the Spartans roster also features five swimmers who have competed at the Division I level. One of those swimmers is junior Jared Fitzgerald, who competed in the 2019 Pan-American games, reaching the finals of the 100 Free finals.
On the women’s side of the team, there is just as much talent. After a fifth place finish at the NCAA Finals, seven Spartans were named CSCAA All-Americans, and are bringing back five of them for this season.
The group includes Hana van Loock, who finished in fourth place of the 100 Free at the NCAA Nationals, and three quarters of the 400 Free Relay team that set a school record and finished as the runner up at the NCAAs.
“The experience is very important, NCAA’s is the highest level meet that they will swim in all year,” said Kiner. “Learning what it takes to be invited to the national championship meet,to have the correct mental state going into the meet and maintaining that mental state can only be learned by experience. These experiences make each individual better which entails making the team better.”
The men’s and women’s teams share a schedule, with their first meet on Saturday, Oct. 19 against Rollins at the Aquatic Center on UT’s campus.
Ben Jansen can be reached at email@example.com