MU swimmers hope to make strides at Big 12 Championships

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 | 8:12 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Pat Rowan, an assistant swimming coach at Missouri for the past four years, is witnessing a transition.

Rowan and Missouri diving coach Jamie Sweeney were the only coaches retained from last year's staff when Greg Rhodenbaugh was hired as head swimming coach last May. Rhodenbaugh, who had been an assistant at perennial swimming power Arizona, filled the rest of the Missouri program with coaches from all over the country.

"They brought a pretty big resume," Rowan said. "I had some pretty high expectations of what we were going to do here because I knew the kind of athletes we had here, and I knew how far the previous staff had brought the team. I felt like we were on the cusp just waiting for that one final push, and I expected the staff coming in to do that and provide that for us."

Since taking over, Rhodenbaugh has said he is trying to change Missouri into a team with a "championship swimming" attitude.

The new coach said past Missouri teams were primarily concerned with dual meets and the Big 12 Championships.

"It's a lot bigger out there than just conference swimming," Rhodenbaugh said. "After that, there's NCAAs."

Two Missouri women's swimmers, sophomore Dominique Bouchard and senior Lauren Lavigna, have already qualified for the NCAA Championships. Rowan said he could not remember Missouri ever having two swimmers qualified this early in the season.

"We're already making that stride," Rowan said. "Now, how big a stride is a question this year."

On Wednesday, the Tigers begin competition at the 2011 Big 12 Championships in Austin, Texas. The meet concludes on Saturday.

Just 13 Missouri swimmers competed at the Missouri Grand Prix last weekend, and only Bouchard swam in more than one event. Rhodenbaugh said the small showing was because of the Big 12 meet.

"We've been resting," Rhodenbaugh said. "Swimming is a different kind of sport because you overtrain so much, so you need a lot of rest. It's not like football or basketball where you work on plays."

Rowan has always seen his swimmers rest before the big meet, but this year has been different.

"The biggest difference has been more mental," Rowan said. "There's a lot more focus on the mental side; there's a lot more confidence that we've been building."

The Tigers' women's team can draw confidence from the 3-0 record that it earned in dual meets against Big 12 opponents this season. The women beat Kansas, Iowa State and Nebraska, but they have not seen Texas or Texas A&M yet this season.

The men's team has not fared as well, placing third behind conference opponents Texas and Texas A&M at the Southwest Plunge in October. Texas and Texas A&M are the only other Big 12 schools with men's teams.

"We're trying to get people to the next level," Rhodenbaugh said. "Our goal is to make NCAA All-Americans and put people on their national teams. We're going down there to make as many NCAA qualifying standards as we can."

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