One week into the season, the Wisconsin men’s swimming and diving team is already excited to see how its season will culminate. With strong leadership from the seniors and a solid foundation of freshman and transfer swimmers, the program looks more ready than ever to be a force in the Big Ten.
Last weekend the Badgers fell to powerhouse Georgia 179-139 despite a hard-fought effort in in their first event of the season. Third year head coach Whitney Hite hopes to use the strong finish last season as motivation for his team as they face one of the toughest schedules in the country.
The Badgers finished 13th overall at the 2013 NCAA Championships, their highest finish for the program in more than a decade and the third best in team history. The highlight of the championship was then-sophomore Drew teDuits’s victory in the 200-yard backstroke, finishing in 1 minute, 38.27 seconds. He became the first national champion for Wisconsin in 54 years, and the performance earned him a spot on the U.S. National Team along with teammates Nick Caldwell and 2013 graduate Michael Weiss.
“Having the leadership of these national-level swimmers on a younger-based team is really beneficial to us moving forward and getting better,” Hite said.
Since his arrival to UW in the 2011-’12 season, Hite has been successful in recruiting top swimmers and rebuilding the program.
“Hite is a very knowledgeable coach, and you can tell how much he cares about everyone on the team,” sophomore transfer Zach Wagner said.
Wagner is pleased with how easy the adjustment has gone for him after leaving USC and joining the Badgers. He is now focusing his excitement on the direction his new team is headed.
“The guys are great, all of them are down-to-earth and really focused. It’s an awesome environment to be in for swimming,” Wagner said.
Wagner also emphasized the importance of setting goals, both individually and as a team, in order to motivate swimmers and maximize potential. With the talent on the team and the conditioning from long, two-a-day practices, Wagner believes these goals definitely look attainable.
“The main team goals are to finish in the top three at the Big Ten Championships and in the top 10 at NCAA’s,” Wagner said. “Individually, I hope to break 20 seconds in the 50 yard-free and 44 seconds in the 100 yard free.”
Now entering his junior season, teDuits is taking on a larger leadership role. He believes the loss against Georgia was a hard-fought competition and a good indicator of what the team has started to improve on.
“A lot of our freshman have already stepped up and did an awesome job, especially in the freestyle events, which were a weak spot for us last year,” teDuits said. “We’ve lost some key pieces after last year, but I think we’ve done a good job of replacing what we’ve lost and gaining what we didn’t previously have.”
Other key additions to keep an eye on besides Wagner include freshman diver Andrew Suchla, freshman butterfly standout Cannon Clifton, Florida transfer Nick Caldwell and freshman freestyler Brett Pinfold.
Pinfold won Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors Tuesday for his dominating performance against Georgia, recording six top-three finishes, including a win in the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 20.74.
When it comes to practicing and working towards his goals, teDuits feels confident the underclassmen fully understand the expectations of the team.
“A huge factor of success is believing in what you’re doing and giving your all to it,” he said.
teDuits and the rest of the upperclassmen also believe reminding the team of the goals they set for the season will help them through the hardest workouts.
Coming up on the Oct. 18 and 19 is a meet against conference rival Minnesota. As it is the only home meet of the season, Hite and the rest of the team are excited to see how they match up against their competitive foe.
“Minnesota is a very good team. They’re very well coached — they prepare well — and that’s why they’re as successful as they are,” he said. “We look to build off of last week at Georgia and continue to improve as the season progresses.”
Wagner, teDuits and the rest of the team are eager to get into the pool and look to hand the Gophers a loss.
“They’re tough, and it’s been a while since we’ve beaten them, but I think we have a chance to come out on top. I can’t wait to see how it turns out,” he said.
Wagner added the team is looking forward to seeing a lot of fans at the team’s annual Pack the Nat event for what should be a close but winnable meet.
The Badgers will take on the Gophers Oct. 18 and 19 at the Natatorium beginning at 3 p.m.