By Kit Ramgopal
“This team is good enough to win the title. Anything short of that may be a little bit of a shortcoming.”
It’s a high bar set for the No. 8 Stanford swim team (5-2) by head coach Ted Knapp, though it is possibly even overshadowed by the high ambitions of Stanford swimmers themselves. These ambitions will be tested this weekend, as the team travels to Federal Way, Washington, in a meet that will be the culmination of an impressive 5-2 dual meet season.
“From day one, they had this meet in mind. Through hard training, through tough dual meet losses, they never lost sight of this meet,” Knapp said of the team mentality heading into the weekend.
“I’m confident we can win Pac-12s this year,” echoed sophomore IM standout Curtis Ogren. “My class is more experienced now and will do much better with one Pac-12 [meet] in the bag. In terms of freshmen, we have strong depth. We don’t have the seniors we did, so I can’t wait to surprise the swimming world with what we have in store.”
So, what exactly is in store? The Pac-12 championship is three days of competition, which means that all of the eligible swimmers will see time in the pool. This is good news for Stanford swimming, which boasts a degree of depth across events that is unmatched even by its fiercest conference competitors, four of which are also ranked in the top-25 nationally.
The different scoring system in Pac-12 championships recognizes breadth as opposed to individual effort — a team with several lower-scoring swimmers wins more points than a team with just one winning performance.
Stanford’s depth shines through in the sprint freestyle, sprint butterfly and the individual medley events, showcasing veteran swimmers like sophomore Sam Perry, senior Gray Umbach, junior Max Williamson and Ogren. Umbach will especially look to impress, being hot off of a new Stanford record in the 200-yard butterfly last weekend against Cal (1:44:20).
Meanwhile, the tremendous energy of the Pac-12 meet promises further chances for pushing boundaries. Perry recorded all of his top sprint freestyle times at Pac-12 championships last year, while Ogren earned second place in the 400 IM with a Stanford record-setting finish.
Last year, Stanford finished second in the Pac-12 championships. The team lost a first-place lead established after current senior Danny Thomson’s title in the 1650-yard freestyle in a heartbreaking final 400 freestyle relay against USC. This was the first Pac-12 meet in 36 years that had not been claimed by either Stanford or Cal. Despite the loss, the 2015 Pac-12 championships certainly represent another episode in a legacy of excellence in Cardinal swimming, detailed with resounding successes from all-American diver Kristian Ipsen and national 200 IM record-holder David Nolan.
The loss of world-class athletes like Ipsen and Nolan this season has not hindered the dynamism of Stanford swimming. Instead, it has merely changed its sourcing. A major transition between last year and this year has shifted the teams’ focus from individual emphasis to team depth and relationships.
“After four years, we definitely have a different culture on the team, and it’s really exciting because we’re getting points from just about everyone – every stroke, every group, every class,” senior captain Sean Duggan remarked.
“That’s exciting because we know how much everyone brings to the table, and it brings us that much closer. This weekend is going to take some big swims, not just out of our top guys, but out of our middle tier guys.”
Follow along with the action this weekend by watching the event live on Pac-12 Networks starting Wednesday at 12:00 p.m. or by checking in with @stanfordmswim on Twitter.
Contact Kit Ramgopal at kramgopa ‘at’ stanford.edu.