Occidental’s swim team competed at the SCIAC Championship meet Feb. 20–23 at the Brenda Villa Aquatics Center in Commerce, CA. Occidental’s swimmers broke a total of six school records as the men’s and women’s teams both raced their way to top five finishes in the conference.
The SCIAC Championships marked the completion of Haley Mitchell‘s first season as head swim and dive coach after former coach Steve Webb resigned to pursue a coaching opportunity at Rhodes College in Tennessee. In the three years under Webb’s guidance, Occidental earned seven NCAA consideration cut times, broke 28 school records, had two Academic All-Americans and two swimmers secured All-American laurels. According to Claire Jang (sophomore), Mitchell meshed seamlessly with the program and allowed the team to build upon their previous triumphs.
“I think [Mitchell] fits in really well with Oxy culture,” Jang said. “I’m really impressed with what Coach Haley has helped us with.”
According to Mitchell, much of the team’s success can be attributed to their relentless dedication to fundamentals, particularly kicking. In addition to hard work and tenacity at practice, Mitchell said cultivating a fun, goofy team culture proved to be extremely advantageous.
“I really want people to enjoy their four years here,” Mitchell said. “The more you feel like you fit in and are having a good time, the faster you’ll swim, and the faster you swim, the more fun you’ll have because swimming fast is fun. It’s cyclical.”
Mitchell said the Tigers were consistently the most entertaining and exciting team on the pool deck throughout the four days of competition. According to Jang, the team’s traditions at SCIACs include lining up behind the blocks cheering on competing teammates with a “Tiger Territory” sign, wearing a tiger head, chanting “Io Triumphe” at random and participating in “secret swimmer,” where swimmers anonymously exchange gifts with their teammates. Ian Zunt (senior) sang the national anthem to kick off the second day of the championship, Mitchell said.
On the women’s side, Sienna Lucido (sophomore) broke the 400 I.M. record at 4:38.26, and Marisa Emoto (first year) set the school 100-yard freestyle record with a time of 53 seconds flat. Cindy Dong (sophomore) won the bronze, in addition to receiving All-SCIAC laurels, for the 200-yard butterfly (2:05.67). Dong also set the 200-yard freestyle school record with a time of 1:53.19.
Emily Driscoll (sophomore), Maddie Dieffenbach (first year), Dong and Jang teamed up to beat the 200-yard medley relay school record at 1:47.23, powering them to a fourth place finish. Chanel Ng (first year), Emoto, Dieffenbach and Dong claimed another school record and were named All-SCIAC in the 400-yard freestyle relay, with a time of 3:33.26.
Zeke Sebastian (junior) set a program record in the men’s 200-yard freestyle record, coming in at 1:40.79. Originally the 14th seed, Sebastian broke the 21-second mark in the 50-yard freestyle for the first time in his career and placed fifth at 20.96. According to Sebastian, his exceptional races were even more special because his biggest fan was in attendance: his mom.
“My mom has been a huge supporter of mine throughout my entire swim career, and she is the loudest cheerer in the world, so being able to hear her scream, ‘Go Zeke go!’ was a huge adrenaline booster,” Sebastian said.
On the men’s side, Miles Koupal* (sophomore), Zander Granath (senior), Noah Nagel (sophomore) and Sebastian placed fifth in the 800-yard freestyle relay with a time of 6:59.76. Granath, Koupal, Sebastian and Thomas Hoffman* (first year) finished fifth in the 200-meter freestyle relay at 1:28.54.
Mitchell said she hopes to see even more success at next year’s SCIAC meet, as the completion of the De Mandel Aquatics Center will be essential to continuing to recruit talented athletes and maintain a competitive training regimen. According to Mitchell, De Mandel will have more than double the number of lanes as Taylor Pool, which will enable swimmers to have workouts more appropriately specialized to them and give swimmers enough space to swim without worry of flip-turning into a teammate.
Although they are grateful and proud of their achievements this past championship meet, Occidental swim and dive has their eyes on the future, according to Mitchell.
“We have a lot of talented swimmers and divers returning,” Mitchell said. “Everybody who broke a school record is returning, even on the relays, so we have a lot to look forward to.”
*Miles Koupal and Thomas Hoffman are photographers for The Occidental.