With the final stroke of the anchor leg of the men’s 800-yard freestyle relay, it was over.
Freshman Missouri swimmer Jake Hoffmann slapped the wall so hard that the water between his hand and the tiled wall splashed everywhere. It was as if the water did not dare slow him down. As his body glided to a halt, the four Tigers swimmers in the relay looked at each other and then at the clock. When they saw the fluorescent glow of 6:41.76 looming over the pool, they saw Missouri’s oldest record fall to four underclassmen.
“That was by far the longest-standing record,” said sophomore Bennett Clark who swam the first leg of the relay. “It was definitely something that we wanted to try to take down. It was the happiest that a lot of us have been all season.”
Missouri coach Brian Hoffer took 12 men and 12 women to compete over the weekend at the University of Texas Invitational, a 29-team meet packed with Olympic swimmers and top-10 teams.
Maybe it was the prestigious competition, or maybe it was the tension of the fast-paced meet, but whatever the reason, the Tiger swimmers broke two records and repeatedly swam to top-five school finishes.
“It was the fastest meet in Division I swimming that I have seen so far this year,” Hoffer said.
Hoffmann and Clark, who along with freshman Brad Hubbard and sophomore Alex Zasadny, broke the 24-year-old relay record by almost a second, did not stop there. Clark’s first-leg split of 1:39.20 gave him one of the school’s top-three times.
It was a particularly memorable moment for the group in another way. Just months earlier, they met Scott Halliburton and Tom Hammergren, two members of the team whose record they broke.
“There were a couple guys on the relay who came up to us and were talking about how they still held the record,” Clark said. “It was a friendly challenge.”
The relay team swimmers were not the only ones to meet the challenge. Freshman Lori Halvorson surprised herself when she broke the school record in the women’s 200 individual medley with a 2:02.97.
“I think I realized that I could do things that I didn’t expect of myself at the moment,” Halvorson said. “I just really surprised myself, and it was a really amazing feeling.”
Although Hoffer recognized Halverson’s potential when he recruited her, she has exceeded his expectations early in the season. In addition to her record, Halvorson’s 1:59.75 in the women’s 200 backstroke was a NCAA provisional qualifying NCAA mark and the second-fastest time at Missouri.
Halvorson also posted a NCAA provisional mark in the 400 freestyle relay, along with teammates Shannon Hogan, Lauren Cox and Liz Schoborg.
“She really, I thought, was as good as I’ve had a freshman perform this early,” Hoffer said of Halvorson. “Her accomplishments (over the) weekend were outstanding.”
The Missouri women placed seventh and the men ninth in the meet. The team will not swim again until a Jan. 14 dual meet against Missouri State. In the meantime, the team will train over the holiday season, even training for a week in Coral Gables, Fla.
With so much time off, the MU swimmers and divers will have to work hard to maintain the momentum they gained at Texas. For some, that will not be difficult.
Hoffmann said he knows all he has to do is remember the satisfaction of his hand hitting the wall for the record. The pride he felt was obvious when he told about hearing the words “you broke it” leave Hoffer’s mouth.