Riding teamwork and a selfless mentality all the way to the program’s best-ever finish at the NCAA Championships, the men’s swimming and diving team won national titles in the 200-free and 400-free relays, as six student-athletes etched their names in Lions lore.In the 200-free relay, senior Philip Hawley, sophomore Joseph Dunn, junior Brett Pedersen and senior Stephen Gibson earned the title with a program-best time of 1:20.47, while senior Stephen Tarnowski, Pedersen, Dunn and Gibson took home the 400-free championship with a time of 2:58.07.
“It honestly is the highest satisfaction I have personally ever felt,” Gibson said. “I never imagined my career ending in such a way. It is very surreal. To win one championship was overwhelming, but two is taking it to a level all its own.”
Season-long strategies paid off during the weekend, as the coaching staff — led by NCAA Coach of the Year head coach Brian Bishop — and its focus on sprint races paid off with two titles.
“This year our training strategy was to build up an aerobic base through intense leg workouts early in the season, and transition to more race-pace and style work with less leg emphasis for the second half to let everyone’s legs recover for the championship season,” Tarnowski said.
This resulted in what was arguably the best finish in the swim program’s 25-year history, as Bishop acknowledged.
“We were more in the national mix this year than (ever before), so I think this was definitely our best year,” Bishop said. “Winning the Coach of the Year is great, I’m humbled by it. But it’s really a reflection of our team. You can’t win a Coach of the Year award without outstanding student-athletes, and so it’s a credit to them understanding what we’re trying to do.”
The cause for the Lions’ massive relay success was their selfless approach to what’s often an individual sport, as despite racing against teams with racers with better personal times, they came out on top when it mattered most.
“We understand that even though swimming is a very individualistic sport with little team interaction, we all depend on each other to ultimately achieve our goals,” Gibson said. “Each individual performance has its role in the team as a whole.”
That’s why the team was able to play better than the sum of its parts: Even though the College swimmers in the 200-free relay finished 18th, 20th, 22nd and 24th, they swam for each other to achieve an unbelievable result.
“Bishop says we perform well on relays because we all swim for each other,” Tarnowski said. “Another Bishop-ism is that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. This took on literal significance for me, because after coming up a few tenths short in my individual races, I was able to finally achieve a title with the help of my team.”
That selfless mentality was exemplified by senior William Kasper, one of the five swimmers competing for a spot on the relay team all year.
Kasper ended up on the outside looking in, but showed strong support for his teammates at nationals.
The rest is history.