As the fourth-year students of UCLA Swim Club lined up to dive into the pool during their final practice, they couldn’t help but smile at each other.
Back in the fall of 2008, when UCLA Swim Club first started, the three then-freshmen ““ Miki Sato, Yusuke Murakami and Francesca Grogan ““ made up nearly one-fourth of the swimmers at practice.
Four years later, the team has grown from fewer than 20 members to more than 80 and moved from North Pool on campus to Spieker Aquatics Center, UCLA’s state-of-the-art aquatics facility.
“There is a large population of swimmers at UCLA,” said recent graduate Murakami.
“It’s the common interest in swimming that brings everyone together in the club. That’s how we envisioned it when we started it, so it feels really good to see how much it has grown the last four years.”
As the team has grown, so has its presence in intercollegiate competition.
The team’s competition schedule has grown from early intersquad meets to sending swimmers cross-country for the East Coast Swim Club Championships, the largest annual collegiate swim club competition in the nation, last spring.
Last spring was also a transformative time for California swimming, partially thanks to the UCLA team.
Murakami and then-Vice President Drew Frerichs met with representatives from UC Davis and Santa Clara University to form the California Intercollegiate Swim Club Association. CISCA was formed in hopes of bringing California club swimming the level of competitive excellence the East Coast enjoys, with a full schedule of dual and invitational meets.
UCLA placed first in the fall 2011 and winter 2012 meets. The spring 2012 meet, which featured five teams, saw UCLA finish second.
But while training and competing may be the focus of the club, members also emphasize bonding outside of the pool.
The seniors make an effort to organize team events ““ be they workout sessions at the Wooden Center or off-campus socials ““ during off days.
“Swimming’s definitely a part of how I define myself, and swim club is a really a tight-knit family,” said recent graduate Sato.
“Every day, I will see them. We only practice three days a week, but we work out together on Tuesdays and Thursdays and try to eat together after practice every night,” Sato said.
This variety of team activities has brought the team to a level of closeness that transcends swimming ““ a result many never expected.
“We come from so many different backgrounds and I would have thought the only thing we had in common was swimming, but it turns out we really have bonded together in this environment,” Murakami said.
Derek Koo, a first-year civil engineering student, says Swim Club has given him much more than the opportunity to stay fit.
“Being a part of the swim team has been a lot of fun. I first joined as a way to get in shape and in the process, my teammates have become part of my family at UCLA and a big part of my life,” Koo said.
“The seniors are especially very caring and look after us.”
When asked about the thought of attending practice for one last time with all her teammates, Sato had to hold back her emotions.
“It really breaks my heart because my teammates are my family, and I’m going to miss them a lot,” said Sato as her teammates swarmed her with hugs.
But despite their sadness about graduating and leaving the team, the graduates are confident that the club will continue to flourish.
“When we were the swim club, with just the few of us, we were really worried about how the team would continue after we graduated,” Sato said.
“But now that it’s gotten so large and we have established leadership positions and officers, we know the club will keep growing strong.”