The University of Richmond swimming and diving team won its 12th Atlantic 10 Conference championship in 13 years last weekend in Geneva, Ohio.
Since arriving on campus in 2005, head coach Matt Barany has won eight A-10 championships (including winning the past four seasons), been named A-10 Coach of the Year six times and coached five Olympic trial qualifiers.
Senior Mali Kobelja said she could not think of a coach she would have rather spent four years around. “He knows how to listen to people, and at the same time, he challenges us and makes us better,” Kobelja said.
After an up-and-down regular season this year, the Spiders traveled to Ohio expecting nothing less than a title, Barany said.
“What we’ve done all season leads up to this tournament,” Barany said. “Nothing else matters.”
The Spiders rose to the occasion and finished the meet with a team score of 645.5 points. No other school came within 175 points of the Spiders.
Barany, however, said he had noticed more parity in the A-10 this year and saw the league becoming even more competitive in the future.
Along with the A-10 title and Barany’s Coach of the Year honors, senior Mali Kobelja was named Swimmer of the Year by the A-10 for the second year in a row. At the A-10 Championships, Kobelja individually
recorded two first-place finishes and one second-place finish, earning 57 points for the Spiders. She also participated in four of the five relay titles.
“She is a stud,” Barany said. “She’s had a couple semesters with a 4.0 [GPA], she’s been to Olympic trials, she just doesn’t stop.”
In her career, Kobelja has been named A-10 Performer of the Week 13 times and was also honored as the A-10 Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2012.
“Swimming is such an individual sport, and it’s awesome to be recognized for your individual accomplishments,” Kobelja said. “But I don’t think I could have done it without the teammates that trained next to me every day.”
Although the Spiders were carried by their swimmers, three divers contributed by gaining points in their respective events. Freshman Irina Chiulli earned the most points by finishing fourth in the 3-meter event.
The meet included 20 events, two of which were diving events. The Spiders have put a bigger emphasis on diving in recent years, Barany said.
The senior Spiders finished their careers with a perfect 4-0 record in A-10 championships. “As freshmen, we came into a program that had leaders who had a bad taste in their mouths from losing in the A-10s the year before,” Kobelja said.
Individually, Kobelja had never lost an event in an A-10 competition until the last event in this year’s championships, Barany said. Kobelja will continue to compete in an attempt to qualify for nationals in March.
Out of the water, the Spiders excel in the classroom. In the spring 2013 semester, 95 percent of the team earned a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Also in that semester, the program earned the eighth-highest average GPA (3.51) among Division I institutions nationally, according to RichmondSpiders.com.
“Would these girls appreciate more attention? Yeah,” Barany said. “But at the same time, they don’t do it for the fame. They just do what they are supposed to do, inside and outside the pool.”
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