Swimming and diving ready to see training ‘pay off’ at A-10 Championship

Media Credit: File photo by Dean Whitelaw | Photographer

Senior Emily Zhang was instrumental in GW’s third-place finish last season, earning an individual gold medal in the 200 freestyle event, and her 1:47.34 time set a program record.

First-year head coach Brian Thomas started the season with the goal of using a “back-to-the-basics” training plan to improve details like starts, turns and underwater kicking. During winter break, the team switched gears and focused on boosting fitness levels for the second half of its season.

Now Thomas is ready for that work to “pay off” at the Atlantic 10 Swimming and Diving Championship this week, despite two extended breaks from competition throughout the season.

“It’s about taxing them throughout to have a big benefit and payoff toward the end,” Thomas said. “Everything we do from a training standpoint, what we do to plan, is all with the end of the year in mind.”

Swimming and diving will compete in the four-day championship meet this week after nearly a month off from competition that started Jan. 19.

The men’s team will be tasked with defending its championship title for the third year in a row. The reigning champions were selected as favorites to win the 2019 title in a preseason poll of the league’s head coaches, receiving seven out of eight first-place votes.

Thomas said he has not let his team become complacent with their past success, and said heading into the competition with the assumption of being able to win easily would be a “killer” for the team.

“That’s big-time motivation for your competition and it’s a great way to get beat,” Thomas said. “If you go in somewhere thinking that you’re better than anybody else, or go through a season feeling that way, that’s just a really good recipe to get beat, so hopefully we’ve avoided that to a certain degree and we can go in hungry.”

The team has had nearly a month off since dropping to Virginia Tech 197–91 and Cincinnati 172–126 in GW’s final tri-meet of the regular season Jan. 19. The Colonials swept Howard and American the week prior.

“This year was all about keeping everyone’s expectations high but realizing we still have to start from scratch and keep on working hard,” senior Tommi Wolst said.

Wolst and senior diver Jake Ortiz said they are both hoping to improve on their past performances at the conference championships but are putting the team first in their training.

Wolst has earned multiple gold medals in relay events this season, and last season Ortiz advanced to the NCAA Diving Zone A Championships after his performance at the championship meet.

“We’ve really been trying to stress to the younger classmen that this is what we work for and this is a time when we want to get rowdy and get behind each other,” Ortiz said. “The first-years have really gotten a sense that the team is the overall important thing and if you swim great individually, that’s awesome, but one person performing well isn’t going to get the goal accomplished.”

On the women’s side, the Colonials are seeking their first A-10 crown in program history. Last season, they finished third in the conference, up from a sixth-place finish in 2017 and a ninth-place finish in 2016. Preseason rankings slotted the women’s team to finish fourth in the conference.

Standout performers for the women’s team include newcomers like freshman Isabela Patino, who has been honored as A-10 Rookie of the Week twice this season. Patino led the Colonials last month against Virginia Tech, Cincinnati and James Madison with a first-place finish in the 200-yard butterfly with a time of 2:04.36.

Freshman Andrea Moussier has earned A-10 Rookie of the Week three times this season and most recently finished sixth in the 1,000-yard freestyle to lead the Colonials last month.

Senior Emily Zhang was instrumental in GW’s third-place finish last season, earning an individual gold medal in the 200 freestyle event and her 1:47.34 time set a program record. Zhang said being able to lean on the men’s squad and using her experience will help her lead younger teammates and keep team energy high.

“It’s awesome that I have both men and women carrying me throughout all my practices and races,” Zhang said. “I can fall back on 60 different people, and I think that’s what makes our team really special.”

The A-10 Swimming and Diving Championship kicks off in Geneva, Ohio on Wednesday and competition runs through Saturday.

Will Margerum contributed reporting.

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