Men’s swimming and diving has sent a swimmer to the NCAA Championships for the past three seasons, but this season it is unclear who will carry on the torch.
First-year head coach Brian Thomas said there are swimmers on this year’s squad who have proven to be consistent in practices and meets, but the team lacks a single standout swimmer as they had in past seasons.
“There are certainly swimmers that have been putting in very, very consistent work and really have been consistently excellent in training and in meets and everybody can see the results and see who those swimmers are,” Thomas said. “What it will mean in February and March, I have no idea.”
The program competed last season for the first time without 2017-graduate Andrea Bolognesi, the most decorated swimmer in program history. During his two-year tenure as a Colonial, Bolognesi became the first All-American swimmer at GW and repeated the feat his senior year after winning the B Final of the 100-yard breaststroke at the 2017 NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships to take ninth overall in the event.
Bolognesi said he spent his junior year trying to learn the ropes of the program, but grew into a leader by his second season and wanted to mentor younger swimmers.
“I wasn’t trying to be hard-nosed, but be the one you could ask a question about your technique or the way you approach practices and try to give honest answers every time,” Bolognesi said.
2018-graduate Gustav Hökfelt continued the NCAA tradition when he became the program’s fourth swimmer to compete at the NCAA Championship in March. Hökfelt broke the program record in the 100-yard backstroke at the national competition, one of three events he competed in at the meet.
“I did the right things in and out of the pool and I think a lot of people respected me just because of that, which helped a lot with the leadership role,” Hökfelt said.
Thomas said some swimmers have the potential to reach the level of performance of Bolognesi and Hökfelt, but it is too early to tell because the team is a little more than two months into the season.
“Certainly losing Andrea and Gustav the last two years hurts in terms of finding those swimmers,” Thomas said. “I don’t know if we have that swimmer here right now, but we’re going to find out.”
Bolognesi said although this year’s squad may not have one performer that rises above all the others, the junior and senior classes are “balanced” and will be able to pull off victories in the pool behind group efforts.
“I know as a group they can serve the same purpose that Gustav and I served in the past,” he said.
Bolognesi added Hökfelt had the “most drive” out of any of the teammates he had ever swam with, and he sees that characteristic reflected in this year’s group of juniors and seniors.
“Gustav was a little bit different in that he didn’t have that immediate success and built toward what he wanted to achieve,” Thomas said. “I still hear our swimmers talking about Gustav and the kind of work he put in and what it led to.”
Hökfelt, who is now in medical school in Sweden, said he tries to keep up with the team as much as he can and has reached out to Thomas to get his perspective on how the team has performed so far.
“There’s a lot of people on the team currently that have the capability to step up and really become a national-level swimmer,” Hökfelt said. “I wouldn’t say there’s one specific person that stands out because there’s a lot of people on the team that definitely have the potential to swim at the national level.”
As a swimmer, trusting the coach is “crucial,” Hökfelt said. He said he questioned everything his coaches told him when he first started swimming at GW, but once he started listening to them he saw “big progressions” in his times.
Hökfelt said the road to becoming a national-level swimmer was not a “fun journey” because of the intense level of discipline and focus it took to reach his goals, but the biggest impact on him as a swimmer was the support and motivation he got from his teammates.
With a monthlong break ahead, Thomas said the Colonials will be entering their most intense training schedule in order to get swimmers to the best fitness levels to prepare for a potential showing at the NCAA Championship in March.
“It’s absolutely the most exclusive meet from a swimming standpoint and probably in the world, top to bottom,” Thomas said. “Even more so than the World Championships or the Olympic games, simply because the very bottom is still really, really good. You really never know how it’s going to shake out.”