UCLA swim and dive finished last season 20th in the nation and remains in a similar standing, even after major personnel changes.
No. 21 UCLA will kick off its season this weekend at both the Southern Methodist University Classic and at San Diego.
Swimming boasts 11 new freshmen to fill the spots left by last year’s 10 seniors.
“We did a team retreat so that was a really good opportunity for everyone to get to know each other and bond really well,” said senior Sarah Kaunitz. “Each person who comes in adds something to the team.”
Coach Cyndi Gallagher said the freshmen have improved a lot already in the month that the team has practiced so far, but are still adjusting to collegiate swimming, dry land training and weights.
Because the Bruins have yet to compete in a meet, Gallagher said she doesn’t yet know who the freshman standouts will be. Still, freshman Jennifer Lathrop’s performance at the Blue vs. Gold Intrasquad meet was enough to earn her a spot on the eight-person roster heading to this weekend’s SMU Classic.
“(Lathrop is) the only freshman going, so that should tell you something,” Gallagher said. “For her to be able to go to this competition is like ‘Boom, you’re going against NCAA competition.’ … She’s going to get an education on college competition.”
Gallagher said she was especially impressed with the sophomore class’s performance at the intrasquad meet, but that the competition exposed the improvements the freshmen still need to work toward.
“Like little details that the freshmen don’t know that I’d think they would know like don’t breathe into the finish, put your head down from the flags in and go,” Gallagher said. “I mean the urgency part, they don’t get that yet, but I don’t expect them to yet.”
This weekend’s meet will offer the team a chance to face off against rarely-seen opponents, including Louisville and Miami.
“It’s just a baseline for the year,” said senior Katie Grover. “It’s a really fun meet because it’s an invite meet, so it’s a really small group of swimmers … it’s kind of a good gauge to see where we’ll be in December.”
Since this meet will have no Pac-12 bearing, Gallagher said the team will have lower expectations and will focus on improvement. Last year, then-sophomore Emma Schanz qualified for the NCAA championships during the first meet of the season.
The diving team will return three of its four NCAA qualifiers and add two freshmen, Alice Yanovsky and Ruby Neave.
Of the NCAA-qualifying returners, diving coach Tom Stebbins said the plan is to redshirt senior Maria Polyakova, the 2016-17 Pac-12 Diver of the Year.
Junior Eloise Belanger finished in the top 10 at the NCAA championship, in which senior Ciara Monahan also competed.
“Our goals are mostly to just continue all of our progress from last year because we all ended on a pretty good note,” Monahan said. “And for me, definitely to make it to NCAAs again, hopefully to a semifinal, and even go further after that.”
Monahan will be the only diver to compete at the upcoming SMU Invitational for UCLA. A challenge facing the Bruins is their one month of practice compared to opponent schools on the semester system who have been back for two months.
“It’s one of the early meets of the season, so we haven’t had that much time to prepare,” Monahan said. “I think for this meet it’s more about the quality that we put into our workouts compared to the quantity that we’ve had.”