COLUMBIA — For the second consecutive year, the Missouri swimming and diving program has produced a record season for success.
Its 14th-place finish at last month’s NCAA Championships was its best in the event, topping last year’s 19th-place finish, which had been the team's previous best.
In coach Greg Rhodenbaugh’s third full year with the program, a pattern of rapid improvement has been established.
“Quite a few of the coaches were coming up and saying things like ‘Wow, you guys did so well,’” Rhodenbaugh said.
Much of Missouri’s success can be attributed to sophomore men's swimmer Sam Tierney. Over a three-day period, the former walk-on competed in seven grueling races, finishing seventh in the 100-meter breaststroke, 10th in the 200-meter breaststroke and 11th as part of the 200-meter medley relay team. The seventh-place finish earned him All-American honors.
“He’s so versatile,” Rhodenbaugh said. “I’ve never had anybody else swim in as many events.”
But by the third day of the competition, Tierney’s versatility began to take a physical toll. He said the muscles in his long arms burned more than usual, and he had to fight off fatigue.
“It felt like I just did weights,” Tierney said.
At next year’s NCAA Championships, Tierney doesn’t expect to be so overextended. With so many talented young swimmers and a highly-touted incoming recruiting class, he won’t be asked to shoulder nearly as much of the load.
“Our team's getting to the level where were going to start getting more and more All-Americans,” he said.
Despite the program’s best finish at the competition, Tierney said he was pleased but not satisfied. He was careful to distinguish between the two.
“Now we are respected,” Tierney explained.
He quickly added that the Missouri swimming and diving program won’t rest on this year’s accomplishments.
“We’re focused on finishing in the top-10,” Tierney said.
As an upperclassman next year, Tierney wants to take on more of a leadership role. He’s always been able to lead by example. Rhodenbaugh said Tierney swims so hard in practice “he gets broken down.” Now, Tierney wants to be more vocal.
Missouri will need both kinds of leadership if they hope to be even more successful next season. Next year, they will be striving for more than just their competition’s respect.