As a smiling, energetic UCLA swim team raised its hands to lead fans in a jubilant eight-clap, one would never guess the Bruins had just lost a meet.
But as strange as it seems, UCLA had other goals in mind for this weekend’s competition.
“We just really focused on ourselves and what we were doing,” coach Cyndi Gallagher said. “We worked out for an hour this morning before the meet. For us, this is just another step.”
Despite the Bruins’ 176-124 loss to the Trojans on Saturday, it brought them closer to achieving their ultimate objective: to be in top physical and mental condition in time for the Pac-10 Championships at the end of the month.
“I’ve been doing a lot of focusing and visualizing exactly what I wanted to do in these races,” said junior Alex Sullivan, who beat her own school record during her first-place 200-meter freestyle performance (1:45.55).
“The splits that I held on the 200 were almost exactly what I wanted.”
While the Bruins’ emphasis on mental preparation is unusual compared to other schools’ focus on purely physical training, the 27 NCAA B cuts achieved by the No. 21 Bruins this weekend attest to their strategy’s success.
UCLA was particularly dominant in freestyle events, with Sullivan winning the 200m and placing second in the 500m, and freshman standout Cynthia Fascella winning both the 50m and 100m. Fascella’s time of 22.51 in the 50m free is the second-fastest in UCLA history, and her 200m free relay team ““ consisting of all freshmen ““ shattered the meet record with a time of 1:31.17.
“I was a little tired from all the hard work and sprint sets we’ve been doing, but I didn’t even let myself think about it,” Fascella said. “The intensity of the rivalry meet just made us pumped up and really ready to win races.”
For Gallagher, the No. 6 Trojans’ passion was a good sign. It indicated that a team in contention for the NCAA Championship this year took the Bruins seriously.
“USC definitely prepared for us and prepared for this meet,” she said. “Today, they wore the racing suits that we only wear at Pac-10s and NCAAs.
They have a really good team already, and the fact that they felt they needed to wear those suits to beat us is a compliment.”
Even without the time-cutting suits, several UCLA swimmers came teasingly close to the NCAA A cuts that would guarantee them a spot at March’s NCAA Championships. Sullivan’s 200m free time is just 1.53 seconds shy of the automatic mark (1:45.55, A cut: 1:44.02), and after Saturday’s performance, junior Yasi Jahanshahi is now within one second of the mark in the 200m butterfly (1:55.53, A cut: 1:54.95).
Now that Gallagher has officially begun the team’s taper (the period of decreased intensity leading up to big meets), the swimmers should enter Pac-10s rested and ready to achieve.
“We’ve done the preparation we needed to do,” Gallagher said. “Now, it’s time to relax, trust the program and know that it’s all going to come together.”