The University of Richmond swimming and diving team won its 10th Atlantic 10 conference championship in 11 years Saturday night, making it one of the most decorated athletic teams in Richmond’s history.
Richmond remained in first place throughout the four-day competition. The Spiders won the championship with 751 points. Fordham University, whom UR team member Michelle Johnson referred to as Richmond’s biggest rival, took second place with 557 points.
The swim team practices more often than any other team at the university, with eight practices per week, some of which begin at 5:30 a.m., senior Liz Cohan said, but many of the team members attributed the latest A-10 win to their dynamic as a team and the values that they uphold.
There are five core values, Johnson said. They are pride, purpose, selflessness, courage and respect. Johnson said that using these values to win the championship had been the team’s ultimate goal, and she was proud that it had accomplished that.
Johnson said that she had been disappointed with her performance at the meet, but that first night, the freshmen on the team carried the 200m Individual Medley, an event where the swimmer swims an equal distance performing the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle, and had lifted the team spirit.
“The new members are exploring new territory,” she said. “It’s really impressive.”
Richmond freshman Anna Fetter said the win meant a lot to her, being both her first time at the A-10 championships and a landmark meet for the team.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to train with or a better coaching staff,” she said. “I don’t think anyone else could have done it.”
Many swimmers on the team emphasized the importance of the encouraging team atmosphere on their success and said they had wanted to perform well for their teammates — not the public.
“Nobody on campus really knows, but we don’t [swim] for the attention,” Johnson said. “When people learn about what we’ve done, it will earn appreciation for how we do it in such a subtle way.” She also said that Westhampton College Dean Juliette Landphair’s presence at Saturday’s competition had been a great opportunity to share the swimming atmosphere with the broader campus community.
Assistant coach Travis Stensby joined the swimming program this season and said that the team had impressed him with its attitude.
“I would say that both in and out of the water, the team exceeded my expectations,” he said. “I was blown away by the team chemistry; it is unlike any other team on campus and in the country.”
Stensby said he was proud to have been part of the team’s winning history and that he held himself to a higher standard because of that history, but did not think the 10th championship would change the team’s approach.
“I don’t think a number changes anything,” he said. “The campus has noticed the level at which we operate, but the girls have made an impact on teachers, and they work hard in their classes – that says more than titles in a small community.”
Coach Matt Barany, who has led the Spiders to six of its 10 victories, said the team would continue to train and focus on its goals, regardless of community reaction or expectation.
“We don’t expect it to affect campus reception,” he said. “Local news outlets – TVA and Channel 12 and the Richmond Times-Dispatch – have been kind, and we’ve not seen interest like that before, so we are very grateful.”
Barany and Stensby said that raising the bar so high had its disadvantages. Barany said that the community had considered the team’s second-place finish in 2010 to be a failure.
“We didn’t win,” he said, “but the performance was a championship performance.”
For the team, the goal is not to win, he said, but to maintain the values and the relationships it has built up and treat every meet like a championship.
The Spiders now hold the record for the most conference titles at UR, but Barany is still looking to improve.
“I can’t imagine there’s a coach at any point that’s completely satisfied, and there are steps we could have done better, but this will only help us for next year,” he said.
One team goal that Barany, Stensby and the swimmers all agreed on was that they hope to send two swimmers or a relay team to the NCAA next season. To qualify for the NCAA, a swimmer must be in the top 30 for his or her event. The Spiders have sent one woman to the NCAA eight of the last nine years, freshman Meredith Gouger said. This year, Lauren Hines qualified in the 100m backstroke, with the 24th best time.
Spider swimmer Mali Kobelja was voted the women’s most outstanding performer at the meet, and freshman teammate Allison Titley was voted women’s most outstanding rookie, according to the A-10 website.
Titley won the 500m freestyle and came in second in the 200m freestyle. She said she wouldn’t have been able to succeed without her team’s support in pushing her and cheering for her on the sidelines at meets.
Titley said winning the championship and getting to be partially responsible for her team’s win had meant more to her than being rookie of the meet.
“I would say it was probably the first time I’ve seen a team really feed off each other’s inspiration,” she said.
Contact staff writer Rachel Bevels at firstname.lastname@example.org