MU swimmers get it together

Monday, February 21, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:06 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The freshman swimmers overcooked the pasta and it stuck to the pan, but the Missouri men’s swimming and diving team still had a great time at its dinner party on Friday night.

The team watched “American History X” and loaded itself with carbohydrates. The goal: a fun evening together.

As the swimmers and divers get ready for the Big 12 Conference championship, it is clear they will prepare the same way they have for all their meets: as a team.

That is a big change from last season.

Last year, the team lacked mental toughness and chemistry. The result was a 1-5 record. A change in attitude was needed.

So, this season, the team adopted a new mindset, thinking if everyone felt comfortable with each other outside the pool, their performance in the pool would improve.

The philosophy has worked. Coupled with increased recruiting efforts, the Tigers have built a 6-2 record this season, heading into the Big 12 meet on Feb. 23-26 at Texas A&M.

The team achieved its chemistry in two ways.

First, the team established a mentor system for the 14 new members. Older athletes made sure the younger ones got their schoolwork finished. They also helped new athletes fit in with the rest of the team.

Second, the team decided to gather for barbeques and other events, including a trip to the Missouri State Fair to see bands Nickleback and Puddle of Mudd.

“I’ve never been on a team that has been this close before,” senior co-captain Jacob Thomas said. “We love racing together more than anything. We all have the same goal in the end, and that’s to win.”

In addition to improving the team attitude, the Tigers increased recruiting. Missouri barely fielded a team last season, with only 18 swimmers.

This year, the coaching staff recruited versatile swimmers.

“Last season, our swimmers were locked into their events and didn’t have any flexibility,” coach Brian Hoffer said. “This season, we have that flexibility and it has helped to give us better depth.”

One of Missouri’s new faces is that of senior Chris McCrary, who transferred from South Carolina. He has been successful in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle and the 100-yard butterfly. He won the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly against Drury on Jan. 21.The Tigers have also gotten quality production out of several freshmen including Bennett Clark in the freestyle sprints, Brandon Lee in the distance freestyle events, Lex Howard in the butterfly, and Jeff Wolfert in diving.

Wolfert defeated Missouri’s star Evan Watters at Southern Illinois in November.

But even with the success, the Tigers have struggled with inexperience at times.

“Not too many sports are using freshmen the way we are,” Hoffer said. “I don’t see the football team putting a lot of freshmen out on the field.

“But our swimmers have stepped up when put in tough situations. Our team leadership, especially our captains Jacob Thomas and David Darmitzel, have allowed us to let these young guys come on.”

Thomas is hoping the success the team has enjoyed so far will translate into more success at the Big 12 championship.

“I think we are looking strong going into conference,” Thomas said. “This should be one of our best conference meets in a long time. We have a solid shot at competing with Texas A&M, who is a top-15 team.

“Now, I don’t know if we’ll beat them, but I at least feel we can compete strong and competitively against them.”

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