Swim teams rebound to win five straight meets

Nick Bratcher

After sustaining both men’s and women’s losses to South Carolina to open their seasons, the WKU men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams have bounced back in a big way.

Both reeled off victories against Florida Atlantic University on Saturday in Atlanta and narrowly edged out Georgia Tech, 151-149 for the men and 152.5-147.5 for the women.

“We had a meeting together (after the losses), and we said, ‘Let’s just forget about it and look ahead,’” sophomore Billy Kunkel said.

And the swimmers are shaping that outlook into a bright future.

“Going from such a loss like that and coming back and having such a close meet and both boys and girls winning — it was a big confidence booster,” sophomore Hilary Mishler said.

Head Coach Bruce Marchionda values that confidence, knowing the rigorous training during the season can easily decrease it.

“Swimming is kind of a weird sport because sometimes you don’t immediately get your gratification,” Marchionda said. “As a matter of fact, sometimes you get slower because you’re too tired to get up and swim fast.”

One of Marchionda’s hopes is to maintain a drive within the team.

“I told them after the very first meet that one of the things we needed to improve upon was the support that they got from their other teammates,” Marchionda said. “They took that to heart. They were 300 percent better at Georgia Tech, and when you have a meet that comes down to two points and five points, those little things make a big difference.

“They grew up very fast in a very short period of time.”

The team agrees that this strategy is working. Senior Nick Slattery was recognized as the Sun Belt Conference Swimmer of the Week this week after clocking the 23rd-fastest 100-fly time in the nation so far this season.

But Slattery, a Bowling Green native, isn’t in it for the individual accolades. He said WKU’s biggest strength right now is that the Toppers act like a team.

“Team unity is the best I’ve seen in my four years here,” Slattery said. “We all support each other, and everyone gets along really well.”

But Slattery was cautious in his praises for the win because it’s important WKU not rest on its laurels. The swimming and diving teams next compete Nov. 6 at Xavier.

“It was a huge win for us, but we can’t just lay around now and think, ‘Well, we beat Georgia Tech. We’ve got nothing else for a while,’” he said. “We can’t get lazy right now. We’ve got to stay focused.”