COLUMBIA — Halfway through the season and coming off an impressive performance at the Boilermaker Invitational two weeks ago, the Missouri men’s and women’s swimming teams are performing at levels the men have only reached once before, and the women, never before.
The women are ranked 18th, and the men 20th in the College Swimming Coaches Association of America poll. Their success this year is not the result of a large influx of talent — many of the competing swimmers and divers are upperclassmen — or a new coach as Brian Hoffer is in his 15th year at MU. When asked why Missouri is experiencing such an impressive run so far, players responded with the same answer: team unity.
“I think that, as a whole, our team has come together and supported one another better than any other team when I’ve been here,” senior Sarah Menefee said.
The change in attitude for the swimmers started in the summer when Hoffer took both teams out to assorted areas around Columbia, including Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, to get to know each other better. The teams participated in three-legged races, trivia games featuring other teammates’ biographical history and other games and activities. The point of the gatherings was to bring the team together in preparation for the season.
“It was a quick, easy way, especially for the freshmen, to get to know the upperclassmen,” senior Travis Floyd said. “We learned little tiny details about our teammates that we never would have even thought of.”
The teams took advantage of the opportunity and got to know each other better than ever.
“We would learn about each other’s history,” Menefee said. “For the incoming freshmen, we learned about their high school careers. It was a way to learn about each other and also learn how to compete with each other.”
When the season began, there was a noticeable difference in the attitude and togetherness of both teams. Swimmers saw teammates pick each other up after poor performances, and the senior-freshmen dynamic quickly changed.
“We have a huge group of talented freshmen this year,” Menefee said. “I think the difference between this year and past years is the upperclassmen have done much, much better in welcoming the freshmen.”
As the attitude on the team changed, the results in the pool responded accordingly. Both teams started out the season with early-season losses, with the men losing at home to Indiana and the women falling to Texas A&M, but both have since strung together a slew of impressive performances.
Most recently, the men finished second and the women first in the Boilermaker Invitational. The men had the lead going into the final day of competition but could not hang on. The women dominated the event, beating higher-ranked teams Florida and Stanford.
“The girls absolutely dominated at the (Boilermaker) invite. They won by more than 180 points,” Hoffer said of the Tigers’ 185-point victory.
At the event, the teams showcased more than their talent. Boisterous and supportive the entire meet, the teams more than made their presence noticed at the away meet.
“Usually at meets, we’re the louder team,” Floyd said. “At the Boilermaker Invitational, we were by far the loudest team there.”
Both teams have not yet began Big 12 Conference competition, and whether they will continue their unprecedented success remains to be seen. The teams are confident, however, that what they have established this year will continue for the remainder of the season.
“I think it all starts with teammates getting behind each other,” Menefee said. “That’s the number one thing. We’re starting to come together. And with the facilities, with great coaches and support and everything we’ve been given, I think we can improve to become a powerhouse.”