Three years ago Chris McCrary did what many high school graduates have done. He got as far away from home as possible.
McCrary, a St. Louis native, had just finished a swimming career at Fort Zumwalt South High School where he won eight Missouri state championships. He remains the state record holder in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly.
Despite being recruited by MU and his father being an avid MU fan, McCrary took his swimming talent to the University of South Carolina.
“I had a friend who swam at South Carolina,” McCrary said. “I also went there partly because it was the furthest away from home. Sometimes you go where you want to go and not where your smarter, wiser parents know you should go.”
Things have changed in the three years since, and McCrary has returned to his home state to swim for the Tigers during his last year of eligibility.
“Things were going on (at South Carolina) that made me start to lose my love for swimming,” McCrary said. “My relationship with the coaches and the way we trained wasn’t for me. It was strenuous on my whole outlook on swimming.”
After McCrary decided he wouldn’t return to South Carolina, he began talking with MU swimming and diving coach Brian Hoffer.
“Brian had a vested interest in me even though I chose not to come here as a freshman,” McCrary said. “It shows what kind of guy he is.”
Hoffer is excited about what McCrary can bring to a young team.
“Chris brings experience at a national level,” he said.
McCrary swam in the past two U.S. Olympic Trials. He also swam for the U.S. Swim Team in the 2003 Pan American Games, where he finished 10th in the 50-meter freestyle.
McCrary’s experience will be valuable to the Tigers. Almost half of the members are freshmen, Hoffer isn’t worried about his team’s youth. “I like the way we designed the team this year,” he said. “We’re a lot more versatile than last year.”
Hoffer said that last season, swimmers specialized in one or two strokes.
Now the team not only has 25 men compared with last year’s 16, but swimmers who can swim in whatever event they are needed in.
McCrary is part of that versatility.
“He’s a lot more versatile than people realize,” Hoffer said. “We’re going to have him trained differently than he has been in the past.”
McCrary’s specialty is freestyle, but Hoffer said he will fill in where the team needs him.
Hoffer likes the excitement that McCrary brings to the season.
“I told him, ‘You know you’re coming to a 40-year-old pool?’” Hoffer said. “He said, ‘Just give me some water coach.’”
McCrary said he wants to get back to the fundamentals of swimming.
“In swimming, you get hung up on times and qualifying,” he said. “You forget it’s just about winning, about beating someone to the other side of the pool.”
McCrary hopes to be able to do enough of that to help MU improve its 1-7 record from last season.
The MU women, on the other hand, have seen a lot of success in recent years and hope to continue at the same level.
They’re coming off an 8-3 season, but lost seven swimmers who were integral to last year’s team.
“I have some concerns,” Hoffer said. “Not that we can’t be good. It’s just that with seven seniors, you get to know them and what they can do. This year I have no idea. They’re talented, but we’ll have to see.”
Hoffer said the Oct. 30 meet against Kansas will be important.
“The last few years it’s come down to the last two events,” Hoffer said. “Kansas would love to beat us at home.”
Leading the women will be junior Liz Schoborg and senior Mariona Costa. Both qualified for the NCAA Championships last year.
Last year’s MVP Matt North, who finished fifth in the 100 and 200 breaststroke at last year’s Big 12 Championships, returns for the men.
Both teams start their season Friday with the Black and Gold meet at 5 p.m. The alumni meet is set for 9:30 a.m. Saturday.