Men’s swim to face off against UC Berkeley, Stanford at Uytengsu

A USC swimmer lunges forward as swimmers from other schools trail.
The Trojans defeated UC San Diego by an overall score of 195.5-65.5 Jan. 15. After facing Stanford and UC Berkeley, the Trojans will turn to Utah Feb. 12. (Andrew Kerner | Daily Trojan)

Men’s swim competes against Northern California this weekend with back-to-back home meets against UC Berkeley and Stanford. The Trojans are coming off four consecutive overall wins against Arizona, Arizona State, UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara, two of which were away meets. 

Last weekend in Santa Barbara, Calif. USC won in most events, including holding the top spot in events such as the 200 Yard Individual Medley event. Freshman Chris O’Grady took first place (1:48.05), with junior Henry Blaul taking second (1:48.08) and sophomore Holden Raffin holding third (1:48.18). 

Junior Ivan Puskovitch led the Trojans in distance events by placing first in the 500-yard Freestyle and 1650-yard freestyle, as well as taking third in the 400 Yard IM. 

Puskovitch’s specialty is distance, but with some health struggles this past year, it has taken extra work to get back into racing shape.

 “Coming out with a couple wins felt amazing,” Puskovitch said. “It totally built my confidence going into this weekend. I know it’s going to be a lot harder this weekend because Cal and Stanford are serious competitors, but it [made] me so excited to get back in the water Monday morning.”  

On Wednesday, Puskovitch was announced as the Pac-12 Men’s Swimmer of the Week. 

One newcomer poised to make an impact this season is freshman Artem Selin, the current Junior European record holder and a new Freestyler from Germany. Selin’s 50-yard Freestyle currently stands at a 19.38, while his 100-yard Freestyle is a 44.25. Assistant coach Chase Bloch, a USC swimmer turned coach who has been on deck for the last eight seasons, described Selin as “someone that is extremely talented,” noting that they want to develop him in the 100-yard Freestyle moving forward.

This season has presented a unique opportunity for both freshmen and sophomore swimmers. The 2020-2021 swim season was tumultuous for athletes everywhere, as many USC sophomore swimmers have never competed collegiately before. Among them is sophomore Ben Dillard, who recently broke the  school record for the 200-yard Breaststroke. 

“I think a lot of people in the country didn’t realize how talented [Dillard] is, and he’s really kind of proving that right now,” Bloch said. 

Challenges with coaching turnover and the coronavirus have hampered the team’s success in previous seasons. This season Bloch hopes the team will rise up in the Pac-12 standings and beat some tougher competition.

 “We’re trying to set ourselves up where we have one eye at the end of the season, [but] right now, we’re obviously just trying to get there,” Bloch said. 

The competition Saturday is also special because the men’s team will be honoring its seniors on the Uytengsu deck one last time. 

The Golden Bears have consistently placed high at the national level for the last decade or so. Stanford presents another challenge, not only with its past success in the pool, but also with the Berkeley meet taking place the immediate day before. Both UC Berkeley and Stanford remain undefeated this season, each with three conference wins and four overall wins. 

“We’re going to race [UC Berkeley] as best as we can while also saving [some] of our top guys for the meet against Stanford,” Bloch said. “I think we match up a little bit better against Stanford, and I think it’s a winnable meet for us. It’s definitely going to come down to a couple of key events.”

Men’s swim and dive competes at Uytengsu Aquatics Center Friday, Feb. 4 at 2 p.m. against the Golden Bears, and again on Saturday, Feb. 5 at noon against the Cardinal.