For all intents and purposes, the women’s swimming and diving team has had a good season. They concluded the regular season 8-2 overall, with an impressive 6-1 record in conference dual meets, and their swimmers boast some of the top times in the country. Beginning this week, however, “good” will not be enough for the fourth-ranked squad.
They want to be great.
Beginning on Wednesday, the Trojans will compete with some of the top swim programs in the country for the right to be called the Pac-12 champion. Their competition will include top-ranked Stanford, No. 6 Cal — who happens to be the two-time reigning conference champion, as well as the defending NCAA champion — as well as No. 14 Arizona and No. 19 UCLA. Unranked Arizona State, Oregon State, Washington State and Utah round out the field.
“As usual, the Pac-12 Swimming and Diving Championships is one of the toughest conference championships in the country,” head coach Dave Salo said. “We have been challenged and have met the challenges well.”
The challenges Salo refers to include dual meets against three ranked conference rivals: the team has already taken down Cal and Arizona but lost to Stanford by slim margins just a few weekends ago. In the postseason, though, the slate is wiped clean.
As the Trojans attempt to win the team championship, individual swimmers and divers will be working to make their way into the individual NCAA Championships.
USC boasts several freshmen swimmers that have a fighting chance at individual crowns, as well as some seasoned veterans who will look to build upon their success in past years. First-year transfer Anika Apostalon currently holds the 11th best time in the country for the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 48.11, and junior Chelsea Chenault is ranked 12th in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:55.58. Chenault, no stranger to postseason success, finished third last year at the Pac-12 Championships in the 500-yard freestyle and finished third in the 200-yard freestyle.
“We are most excited about this team being very balanced and that we won’t be relying on any one individual swimmer to lead our effort to the team championship,” Salo said. “[Our freshmen] have been outstanding in this campaign, and they have never shriveled under the pressure.”
While the young crop of stars bring a wealth of talent to the table, they don’t yet have any postseason experience under their belts. That’s where senior co-captains Lucy Worrall and Kendyl Stewart come in; the duo possess the leadership capabilities necessary to carry a team all the way through a grueling week of competition, and Stewart is back to defend her title in the 100-yard butterfly.
“Lucy Worrall and Kendyl Stewart have the experience to manage the emotions that we remain focused and undeterred,” Salo said. “We have a strong freshman class and great upperclass leadership that will help the team through the highs and lows of a meet like this.”
The Trojans placed third at last year’s Pac-12 Championships and have never won a conference title. USC has placed second six times in the conference playoffs, the most recent instance coming back in 2013 when the Trojans were defeated by the Stanford Cardinal by just 21 points — the closest margin of victory ever for the conference championships.
While Stewart, Worrall and others are competing in the lanes, the USC men’s and women’s diving teams will be squaring off against conference rivals on the diving boards to help add to their school’s point total.
The Trojans’ women’s diving team boasts the second-most diving titles in conference history, just behind Stanford, and will be led this year by senior Sam Adams, who has already captured six finals in her time at USC. Adams will be joined by Natalie Kalibat, Katherine Van Winkle and Jacqui Suitt, who will all be competing in their final conference championship. Freshman Madison Witt has led the team this season on the three-meter and platformand will hope to contribute strongly to the team’s point total over the coming week.
For the men, seniors Collin Pollard and Deon Reid and sophomore Dashiell Enos will look to score on the diving board. Pollard will look to cap off an already impressive Trojan career, which includes nine finals appearances in the Pac-12 Championships.
The events will run from Wednesday night until Saturday, with Thursday, Friday and Saturday’s action being broadcast live on the Pac-12 Network. On Sunday, individuals will have their last chance to post qualifying times for the NCAA Championships. All events will be held at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Washington.