It’s not that the Texas Men’s Swimming and Diving team doesn’t want to honor tradition, it’s just that pomp and circumstance is of little interest to the Longhorns at this time of year.
When a UT sports team wins a conference championship, the Tower is customarily bathed in orange light as a show of honor and celebration, and the respective teams will gather for ceremonial photos.
With the exception of the men’s swimming and diving program.
After 15 straight Big 12 Conference Championships—and 32 consecutive league titles dating to the Southwest Conference era–expectations are a little higher. These Longhorns prefer to save the photos for when there’s a No. 1 glowing down the side.
And as the Longhorns prepared for this year’s conference meet, which began Wednesday in Columbia, Missouri, the team’s goals hadn’t changed a bit.
“It’s important to do well, mainly as a confidence booster and to get (NCAA qualifying) times. This is a stepping stone into a bigger picture,” said Jimmy Feigen, a 17-time All-American.
Feigen has won 13 Big 12 titles during his time with the Longhorns, but like the rest of his teammates, he views this race as a high-stakes indicator meet. UT rolled to victory last season, defeating second-place Texas A&M by more than 200 points, and claimed victory in all but one of the meet’s events.
“We’ve worked hard since September, and everyone wants to go fast,” head coach Eddie Reese said of this year’s expectations.
But that doesn’t mean the Longhorns are looking for personal-best times this week. Season best times, yes, but their eye remains on a larger prize—a national championship trophy to join the program’s 10 others.
“These championships are a good opportunity to get under the lights and be in front of a crowd so that you get get those adrenaline juices flowing,” said diving coach Matt Scoggin. “It’s an opportunity to get acclimated to that environment and pressure.”
With a strong diving corps, and distance swimmers to also complement the Longhorns’ traditionally strong sprint distance swimmers, UT has depth that could be overwhelming to the competition.
Currently, the Longhorns have swimmers ranked among the nation’s top 20 best times in 19 events. Feigen leads the way, ranking in the top-eight in three events, including the No. 2 time in the country in the 100 freestyle. Teammate Dax Hill isn’t far behind, ranking fifth in the same event.
In addition, all but one of UT’s relay foursomes ranks among the top eight.
“This team is a big family. Everybody loves everybody. In practice, when we’re training real hard, we just push each other in the water,” said Eric Friedland, a two-time All-American and 2011 NCAA Champion in the 200 breaststroke. “We’re extremely competitive people and no one wants to lose at anything. We’re pushing ourselves and making each other better every day.
“We have so many swimming minds. (Reese) knows what he’s doing. He’s seen everything, done everything, so nothing is a surprise to him.”
Longhorn swimmer Dax Hill during a recent meet. Photo courtesy Jim Sigmon