The timers at Spieker Aquatics Center were reading times of fractions of a second during Monday’s swim practice, but it was no malfunction.
They were measuring reaction times for relay starts, a minute aspect of a race that becomes crucial in meets as competitive as this week’s Pac-10 Championships in Federal Way, Wash.
“Five days of competition is absolutely exhausting, but we try to manage that by not worrying the whole week,” swim coach Cyndi Gallagher said. “You get in and warm up, you joke around with your friends, and then right before you swim, you zone in.”
This “zoning in” will be crucial if the No. 21 Bruins hope to hold their own against the Pac-10, which boasts four of the top 10 teams in the nation. UCLA has already faced off against all four of these teams ““ No. 1 Stanford, No. 4 California, No. 6 USC and No. 7 Arizona ““ and came up short each time. Strong performances at the USC dual meet earlier this month, however, suggest that this will be the Bruins’ finest performance of the season.
“I’m really pleased with how we’ve sharpened up after a little bit of rest,” dive coach Tom Stebbins said. “If we stay really disciplined and stay focused on all the pieces of the training that we’ve put in over the course of the year, the result will kind of take care of itself.”
This philosophy has already begun to pay off for the dive team. Senior Laura Winn placed 11th in the nation at the U.S. Diving National Championships earlier this month, qualifying her for next year’s Olympic Trials. But for the swim team, this meet will be the first preview of the top-tier competition it will face in next month’s NCAA Championships.
While senior Brittany Beauchan boasts the Bruins’ only NCAA automatic qualifying time (200-meter breaststroke), the achievement of 27 NCAA consideration times in the USC dual meet alone ensure that these automatic cuts are within reach this weekend. Top performers are likely to include Beauchan and juniors Yasi Jahanshahi and Alex Sullivan, both of whom are within two seconds of the A cut in the 200-meter butterfly and 200-meter freestyle, respectively.
The squad of freshman sprinters Kathryn Murphy, Cynthia Fascella, Ting Quah and Jesse Bergman, who broke the meet record in the 200m free relay at USC, are also likely contenders for A cuts.
While the intensity of such a huge meet will be a new experience for the freshmen, the talented pool of upperclassmen promises to lead by example.
“Everyone’s really, really excited for this meet,” Sullivan said. “The freshmen are nervous because they don’t know what to expect, but it’s been such a good year already that everyone is excited to just swim fast.”